La China Poblana
An educational project of the
Houston Institute for Culture

By Mark D. Lacy

La China Poblana has a special place in the hearts of Mexican people who revere Puebla, ranking just below Mexico's freedom and above delicious food as a symbol of Puebla's proud history. Puebla is know to the world as the city where Mexico defeated the French on May 5, 1862 to eventually win its second independence. For Mexican people, Puebla is known as a great place to enjoy delicious varieties of mole poblano (sauces made with chocolate and spices usually poured over chicken) and chiles enogada, (poblano peppers that are covered with red and white sauces to resemble the flag of Mexico).

But for people all over Mexico and audiences throughout the world, the tradition of La China Poblana is seen on the brightly embroidered ballet folklorico dress style from Puebla, thought to be Chinese in its influence.

La China Poblana, an Asian woman who lived in Puebla, came to Mexico in 1620 as a servant and left her mark on the traditions of the Spanish colonial region with her clothing.

The girl who came to Mexico in the early seventeenth century was probably sold into servitude by traders in the port of Acapulco. She is believed to have been captured by South Seas pirates when she was nine. Evidence indicates she was named Mirrha and came from India, through Spanish controlled ports in the Philippines.

Mirrha (La China Poblana) is believed to have been bought by Miguel de Sosa, who baptized the eleven-year-old "Chinese girl" and gave her the Christian name Catarina de San Juan. After Sosa and his wife died, Catarina married Domingo Suárez, the Chinese servant of a local priest, adding to the legend that she was Chinese.

The dress style now known as China Poblana, a white blouse and colorful embroidered red and green shirt, has evolved to include the national symbols of Mexico - an eagle clutching a snake, and prickly pair cactus. A woman who wears the dress usually braids her hair on two sides, tied with red, white and green ribbons.

Some Mexican people attribute the style to the indigenous people of the region, believing they wore a dress style that resembled a Chinese dress, while most others believe the style developed from the "Chinese girl" who was a servant in Puebla. They say it is widely known and handed down through local tradition that the people admired the girl, La China Poblana, for her generosity and exotic beauty, and they honored her by wearing her dress style.

Catarina de San Juan (1609-1688) is believed buried at he Templo de la Compañia. The Museo Casa del Alfeñique exhibits China Poblana costumes and a local restaurant is named Las Chinas de Puebla. There is also a monument to La China Poblana at the intersection of Boulevard Heroes del 5 de Mayo and Avenida Defensores de La Republica.