La Catrina is an American* educational multimedia project created by David Curland† for Holt Rinehart and Winston's level III Spanish programs. It consists of an episodic direct-to-video miniseries and an accompanying short novel first published in 1997. The film is a drama similar to a telenovela and consists of fourteen episodes, each about fourteen minutes in length. The story follows the journey of Jamie González, a Latina high schooler, as she returns to her family's roots in Querétaro, Mexico. It spawned a sequel, La Catrina: El Ultimo Secreto for Rinehart and Winston's Spanish level IV program. The story revolves around her attempts to discover and execute the will of her wealthy great-grandmother who leaves her all of the property that the villain, Don Silvestre Aguilar, currently occupies.
There are also short, textual versions of both La Catrina and its sequel (similar to readers) meant to be read in conjunction with the shows.
La Catrina is a rich vigilante in an educational Spanish soap opera. The show focuses on 17-year-old Jamie González (a high school graduate from Los Angeles, California) played by Evangelina Sosa, who spends the summer in Querétaro, Mexico. Upon arrival with Felipe Armstrong, she surprises her new Mexican family (the Navarros) who, mistaking her name to be "Jaime," expected a boy (“Jaime” is a masculine name in Spanish equivalent to “James”). After some consideration, the Navarros decide that it would be scandalous to keep Jamie at their house because Carlos, their son, is very attracted to Jamie and they would be sharing a bedroom. Therefore, Jamie is sent to the Linares’ house, where Carlos’s friend María lives. The two become very good friends.
Besides wanting to improve her Spanish and enjoy the culture of Mexico, Jamie has another mission: to find more information about her great-grandmother, Doña Josefa de González (otherwise known as La Catrina). She robbed the rich and donated it to the poor during Mexico’s revolution. Throughout the series, Jamie learns more about her ancestor than she previously believed and uncovers some dangerous secrets along the way. Don Silvestre Aguilar, who currently occupies the estates that are in "La Catrina’s" will, is threatened by the inquiries Jamie is making and worried about losing his political campaign, uses his extensive power in Querétaro to put a stop to Jamie’s investigation.
Evangelina Sosa as Jamie González
Esteban Soberanes as Carlos Navarro
Kate Reardon as Maria Linares
Casey Eason as Rogelio
Phillip Savage as Felipe
As Jamie sits in her room in Los Ángeles, she tells us about her family and the reasons for her upcoming adventures in México. We learn that she will study in Querétaro for the summer. This trip will allow Jamie to improve her Spanish and to find out about her great grandmother who died before the Wikipedia:Mexican Revolution. Her great grandmother was a wealthy, famous woman who mysteriously disappeared. Jamie shows us a picture of her and tells us that her nickname was "La Catrina."
Jamie's Spanish teacher wraps up class with a reminder to her students to keep speaking, practicing, and reading in Spanish over the summer. "La maestra" informs the class that Jamie and Felipe will be spending their summer in México. Jamie speaks with Felipe after class and reminds him that they must speak in Spanish. They meet at 8:00 on Friday and travel by plane to Mexico City. From there, they take a train to Querétaro. We meet a new character, Santana, who seems unusually interested in the conversation between Jamie and Felipe on the train. Meanwhile, in Querétaro, Jamie's host family eagerly awaits "his" arrival. There's been a mix-up, and they believe Jamie to be a boy. This presents a problem since the Navarro's have a son, Carlos, with whom the American would share a room. Needless to say, Carlos is very excited to meet Jamie. Santana makes a phone call to the Biblioteca Central to inform the director, Demetrio Alcocer, that Jamie and Felipe are, indeed, in Querétaro.
Jamie arrives at the Navarro's home. Carlos speaks with his friend, María Linares, but doesn't mention the mix-up. Meanwhile, Sr. & Sra. Navarro discuss the fact that Jamie cannot stay there. Sra. Navarro calls Berta Linares, María's mother, to see about the possibility of her staying in their home. Later, she explains the situation to Jamie. The following day, Jamie goes to the Linares home and together, the girls visit her school, Tecnológico de Monterrey. They talk about their classes and after-school activities. Demetrio, the director of the library in Querétaro, and Santana meet. Santana informs Demetrio that he has been following Jamie and that she is interested in finding out about her great-grandmother. Demetrio shows Santana a picture of "La Catrina" and the detective confirms that Jamie has the same picture. Demetrio mysteriously says, "Then, yes, it is her." Meanwhile, Don Silvestre Aguilar, congressional candidate and owner of La Hacienda de Jacaranda, drives by the Linares home. His bodyguard confirms that this is the house where Jamie is spending the summer.
On Saturday, Jamie, Carlos, and Maria have breakfast at El Arcángel, the Navarro's restaurant. Jamie eats a traditional Mexican dish, chilaquiles. A fax arrives at the restaurant, but Sr. Navarro dismisses it as nonsense. In the afternoon, while sightseeing, Jamie and Carlos enter an antique store. Carlos mentions "La Catrina" when he sees a drawing by Posada. The shop owner offers to show them a picture of a real-life Catrina. Jamie is shocked to see a picture of her own great grandmother. The shop owner suggests that Jamie visit the Biblioteca Central and speak with Demetrio Alcocer to find out more. Unfortunately, the library is closed on Sundays, and the friends have plans to go to San Miguel de Allende. Jamie and Maria do a little shopping at a store which sells traditional Mexican clothing. Jamie uses her new credit card to buy a blouse. Later, while having lunch at a restaurant, Don Silvestre and his bodyguards discuss Jamie and the problem she poses for Don Silvestre's political campaign. He knows that Demetrio Alcocer has a copy of La Catrina's last will and testament.
Demetrio informs Silvestre of his responsibilities concerning the will of La Catrina. Silvestre threatens Demetrio by threatening to take away his pension from working in the library. Following their phone conversation, Jamie enters the library seeking information about her great grandmother. Rogelio, the library clerk, directs Jamie to Demetrio. In their meeting, Jamie gives Demetrio an envelope of information she has about her great grandmother, including a photograph of this famous "Catrina." Demetrio is hesitant to help because of Silvestre's threat, so he asks Jamie to return in a few days. Later that afternoon, Jamie and María run into Felipe at school and invite him to join them in a swim. Felipe declines since he doesn't have a bathing suit, but María assures him that he can buy one at the store. He claims he isn't an expert, but that he will join them. It turns out that María is quite a good swimmer, and so is Felipe. Felipe begins to show romantic interest in María, who invites Felipe to join them at a party that evening for the international students.
As the Navarro's eat supper, Sr. Navarro informs Carlos that he will have to work in the restaurant that evening since they have a meeting. This messes up Carlos' plans to attend the party that the university is throwing for the exchange students. His father gets angry and reminds Carlos that the business supports the family. He's upset that Carlos is only concerned with the environment. Carlos works for Operación Aztlán, a company devoted to promoting awareness and to protecting the environment. Sra. Navarro offers to work at the restaurant, but Carlos insists that he will work. He cautions his father that he, too, should be concerned about the environment. Later, at the party, Felipe and María chat about the differences between the States and México as well as their childhoods. They spot Jamie at the party and inquire as to the whereabouts of Carlos. Jamie explains that Carlos had to work and suggests that they all go to the restaurant to have coffee and cheer him up. At the restaurant, Carlos, who is now falling for the "norteamericana," is elated to see Jamie. A few days later, Carlos drops by the Linares' home with a fax that arrived for Jamie via the restaurant. Jamie rushes to the library. Reading an excerpt from a history book, she learns that her great grandmother was a very brave woman who stole money from the rich in order to give to the poor. She was admired and respected; however, La Catrina was betrayed. Her hacienda, la Hacienda La Catrina, thereafter, became known as La Jacaranda.
María and her friend, Susana, join Felipe at a discoteca. Susana is originally from Spain but has been living in Querétaro for two years. Felipe and María order sodas, and Susana goes off to chat with some friends. The couple end up dancing, and although Felipe claims not to know how to dance, he's pretty light on his feet. The four friends meet at the park where it becomes clear that Jamie is as interested in Carlos as he is in her. In scene 3, we find Carlos working in the offices of Operación Aztlán. A little girl appears with a letter from her mother. The letter is written to Carlos and in it, Guadalupe Guzmán informs him that illegal pesticides are being used at la Hacienda la Jacaranda. Because of these dangerous chemicals, her husband is ill and the fruits and vegetables grown at la Jacaranda and sold at the public markets are contaminated. She pleads with Carlos for his help. Carlos discusses the matter with his co-worker, Silvia. She points out that the workers have written letters before, requesting their help, but until the workers themselves report directly to the authorities, nothing can be done. It is Don Silvestre Aguilar, owner of la Jacaranda and congressional candidate, whom the workers fear.
Carlos phones Jamie and invites her to accompany him to the market. Later, at the market, he tells her about the letter. Carlos is supposed to be buying produce for his family's restaurant, but he also wants to purchase fruits and vegetables from la Jacaranda in order to investigate Sra. Gúzman's claim. Jamie goes off to buy the corn and vegetables, and Carlos, the fruit. Jamie asks the first vendor if her corn comes from la Jacaranda. She is told that it doesn't and that they don't purchase from la Jacaranda. Jamie wants to know why, but the saleslady won't offer any information. The second vendor is even less helpful. A nearby señora tells Jamie that this vendor's corn comes from la Jacaranda and that it is contaminated. Jamie eagerly purchases half a kilo while the confused señora looks on. Jamie thanks her profusely and runs off to meet up with Carlos. Jamie and Carlos need to prove that the corn is, indeed, contaminated, so they bring it to Carlos' former biology teacher at the university. Profesora Maldonado agrees to perform some tests that Carlos can collect in two days. Their next stop is the city's health department. Carlos doesn't expect them to provide much assistance, but to his surprise, his former classmate, Roberto, works there. Roberto allows them to go through the files after hours. Carlos wants to see if any complaints have been filed against la Jacaranda. Evidently, several complaints have been filed, but nothing has been done since the owner of la Jacaranda cannot be located. Jamie is shocked to see her great grandmother's name listed as owner.
Carlos and Jamie bring the produce they bought for the restaurant to El Arcángel. Carlos asks his parents if they get their produce from all of the haciendas. His father informs him that it comes from everywhere, except la Jacaranda, because their prices are higher and the quality is inferior. After the Navarros leave, the couple discuss possible reasons why Silvestre hadn't changed the title on the property. They suspect that by not doing so, he could avoid being responsible for the contamination. Carlos drops Jamie at home and asks hopefully if he'll see Jamie the following day. She reminds him of their plans to go to shopping and tells him how silly he is. The foursome go downtown, and Jamie and María wait outside while Felipe and Carlos go to the sweet shop. María has caught a cold, and as Carlos shows his concern and offers her her favorite candy, Felipe jealously looks on. When Felipe presents María with some sweets, Carlos obnoxiously informs him that "bombones" are not her favorites. Jamie suggests that the guys and girls split up to finish their shopping. Later, at the pharmacy, Felipe needs to purchase some toiletries. When Carlos says that he wants to buy María something for her cold, Felipe jumps all over him and accuses him of still being in love with María. Carlos denies this and starts shouting that it would make no difference anyway because he, Jamie, and the other students would all return to the States anyway. It's obvious that he has begun to care deeply for Jamie and that the end of the summer and the consequent separation worry him terribly. Felipe is embarrassed by Carlos' shouting and asks him to quiet down. When Felipe mistakenly uses the false cognate "estoy embarazado" which really means I'm pregnant, Carlos uses the situation to put down Felipe's Spanish. Likewise, Felipe makes fun of Carlos' English. Later that evening, while Carlos and his friends serenade Jamie under her balcony, Felipe comes by and realizes that Carlos is no longer interested in María but has his eye on Jamie. In the last scene, Carlos and Jamie meet with the director of Operación Áztlan. Although Carlos presents him with proof of the contamination in Profesora Maldonado's report, the director explains that Aguilar is a powerful man in Querétaro and nothing can be done. Carlos angrily stomps off and Jamie goes after him. Carlos explains to Jamie how important it is to protect México. When Jamie tells him that his life is there, Carlos adds that his life is in México, but it's a life that includes Jamie. She gently reminds him that she'll be returning to her home, and Carlos insists that México is her home, too. Even though she's fascinated by México and by Carlos, she insists that she's from the States.
María and Jamie go to the clinic because María's cold has worsened. While waiting for her friend, Jamie overhears a conversation between a farm worker and his wife. The doctor has told the worker that the pesticide that they use is causing his terrible cough. The wife blames don Silvestre Aguilar and threatens to one day confront him. María finishes with the doctor; she and Jamie discuss the doctor's instructions. As the two leave the clinic, they run into Felipe. He asks to talk to María alone so that he can ask her out. When Jamie arrives home later, there are two messages on the answering machine for her. One is from Carlos reminding her about the environmental conference the following day. The second is from Rogelio, the clerk from the library. He insists on seeing Jamie as soon as possible. The next day, they attend the conference and learn about the contamination in the air, water, and land and of the progress that some countries have made in putting sound ecological practices into place. Rogelio catches Jamie after the conference and pulls her aside to talk privately. He explains that don Demetrio knows more about her great grandmother than he is telling Jamie. Like everyone in Querétaro, don Demetrio is afraid of don Silvestre. Jamie is both surprised and confused because Rogelio tells her that she is a threat to Don Silvestre. Rogelio insists that Jamie speak to Demetrio again. In the last scene, the police and ambulances are outside the library and when asked by a reporter what happened, a witness at the scene says that it appears Demetrio has had some kind of accident.
Jamie meets up with Rogelio at the library and finds out that don Demetrio happened upon a thief the night before. Don Demetrio and Jamie sit outside the library to talk. After what happened at the library, Sr. Alcocer is ready to tell Jamie the whole truth about her great grandmother. He reveals his copy of her great grandmother's last will and testament. He explains that after her death, La Catrina left her will with her lawyer, bequeathing her estate to the González family. None of the family remained in Querétaro, however, and the lawyer, who was don Silvestre Aguilar's grandfather, illegally kept the lands as his own. Don Demetrio confirms for Jamie that the will is indeed valid by the likeness of the signatures on Jamie's picture of La Catrina and the will itself. Thankfully, the thief sent by Aguilar did not succeed in finding the will which don Demetrio gives to Jamie. He cautions her to keep it in a safe place and to consult a lawyer. In the next scene, Jamie asks Carlos to bring her to la Hacienda la Jacaranda and explains en route her conversation with don Demetrio. As they are talking about this incredible news, a worker warns them to leave because of the dangerous pesticide they are using on the fields. That evening, Jamie dreams of don Silvestre and his threats. She also envisions her great grandmother, who tells her that she must demand justice and take back that which rightfully belongs to her. She reminds her that she is now rich, but that she must never forget the poor.
Don Silvestre and his lawyer, Manchado, speak about the validity of the will. Silvestre makes clear to him that if he doesn't find some way to invalidate the will in court, Silvestre will no longer be able to pay him so handsomely. After the lawyer's departure, Silvestre tells his bodyguards to make sure that Jamie returns to the U.S. soon and sends them to the Linares' to steal her copy of the will. He then reveals a hidden portrait of La Catrina. He declares that he will not give up what "rightfully" belongs to him. Paco, his son, is outside listening to his father. In scene two, Felipe and María have their date. They decide to rent a video and at the store, Felipe learns that in México, the videos are subtitled, rather than dubbed. They rent a science fiction movie and return to María's house to watch it. After the video, the two discuss the future and the possibility of their being together. Later that evening, María and Jamie discuss their dates. Suddenly, a noise comes from the dining room. The girls run downstairs, but the thief escapes, without having found the will.
Jamie and Carlos are in la Ciudad de México in order to meet with a lawyer. Before their appointment, they do a little sightseeing. Jamie finally sees the authentic copy of Diego Rivera's painting, a copy of which she has as a poster in her room. During their meeting, la licenciada Beltrán, a friend of the Navarro's, takes out the faxed copy of the will which Jamie sent. In her opinion, the will is valid, but she makes clear to the two that don Silvestre will do everything possible to keep "his" fortune. The matter will have to be decided in court in Querétaro. If the will is proven valid, Jamie will have to pay taxes and will be required to live in Querétaro. Jamie asks for her help, and the lawyer agrees to come to Querétaro to resolve the matter in court.
In the first scene, Jamie and Carlos are having dinner following their meeting with the lawyer. They discuss how fortunate it is that Silvestre's campaign coincides with the discovery of the will. At all costs, Silvestre will have to avoid the newspapers getting hold of the story and portraying him as a thief. The following scene takes place in court, in Querétaro. Manchado gives three reasons why the will is invalid: it doesn't have an official stamp, it is not signed by a witness or a lawyer, and the laws have changed considerably since the will was written. Jamie's lawyer reads Josefa de González's own words that all of her land and all of her belongings belong to the first member of her family to return to Querétaro. She calls a witness, Sr. Barbudo, who works for the tax office. He confirms that Silvestre never changed the title on the land. Silvestre angrily shouts out that he pays the taxes. Manchado further argues that Jamie is a foreigner, and Silvestre adds that she knows nothing of their laws. Regardless, the judge decides in favor of Jamie. At a party to celebrate Jamie's good fortune, Carlos congratulates her. Jamie is surprised by the respect and admiration that the people are already showing her. She's eager to talk to her parents. Demetrio introduces Santana, and Jamie realizes that it was he who tried to help the evening the thief broke into the Linares' home.
Jamie calls her parents in Los Ángeles and gives them both the good and bad news. Yes, the fortune will make her rich, but she will have to pay taxes and remain in Querétaro. If she stays, she will not be able to attend UCLA in the fall as she had planned. Although her parents remind her that her life is in the U.S. and that she must think about her future, they leave the final decision up to her. After careful thought and with the support of her parents, Jamie comes to a decision. She intends to renounce her claim to la Hacienda la Jacaranda and put it in the hands of Operación Aztlán. With their help, the land will be protected and the pesticides will no longer be used. To honor her great grandmother, she asks that the original name be returned to the hacienda. Discussing her decision, Carlos declares her a true Catrina. Jamie leaves the door open to returning to México by keeping el Hotel la Jacaranda, now el Hotel la Catrina in her family's name. At the train station, all are there to bid Jamie and Felipe farewell. Paco shows up and gives Jamie a ring that belonged to her great grandmother. Felipe says goodbye to María but before becoming too emotional, María tells him that it is better that he write to her. Jamie says goodbye and thanks each of her new friends. She leaves Carlos with a picture of her great grandmother signed by "la nueva Catrina, Jamie González."
- ^* Created and produced by Americans for an American audience and filmed in Mexico with Mexican actors.
- † David Curland, 1926–2018. American language educator and secondary school Spanish teacher.
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