What does the color and content of currency say about a country? What are the symbols we hold most dear? Who are our heroes? If we look at the banknotes of the United States, we see former presidents; Washington and Jefferson and founders like Franklin and Hamilton. All male, all Caucasian, all long gone. By our tradition, it seems that white men hold the power and the cash.
Before I traveled outside the US, I thought our currency no different that any other. However, fortunately around the world, images of women are on currency in many nations. In Spanish speaking South America, out of 7 countries, 6 have portraits of women on their bills.
We’ll start with the outlier. In Ecuador there were no women on the last currency before 2000, and they now use US dollars! So, none and none.
Now we’ll continue alphabetically:
1) Argentina: 100 pesos; María Eva Duarte de Perón, first lady of Argentina 1946–1952.
2) Bolivia: 20 bolivianos; Genoveva Ríos, 14-year-old heroine from the war between Bolivia and Chile in 1879, (also features Tomás Katar and Pedro Ignacio Moiba.)
3) 100 bolivianos; Juana Azurduy de Padilla, Lieutenant Colonel of the Bolivian army in the fight for independence. (Also features: Alejo Calatayud and Antonio José de Sucre.)
4) Chile: 5000 pesos Gabriela Mistral, first Latin American writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.
5) Colombia: 2000 pesos Débora Arango, Modern Expressionist Artist.
and 6) 10000 pesos; Virginia Gutierrez de Piñeda, Anthropologist who researched the family in Colombia.
7 and 8) Paraguay; 2000 Guaraníes, Adela and Celsa Speratti, two Paraguayan sisters who were involved in forming the educational system.
9) Peru: 200 Nuevos Soles, Santa Rosa de Lima, Patron saint of Lima, Virreinato del Perú, 1586–1617, devout Dominican nun famed for saving Lima, Perú from a Dutch pirate attack in 1615, with her prayers.
10) Venezuela: 20 and 5000 bolívar fuerte. Luisa Cáceres de Arismendi Venezuelan patriot in the War of Independence.
11) Uruguay: 1000 pesos Juana de Ibarbourou, called “Juana de América,” feminist poet.
Not only politicians, but heroines of battles of independence, poets, an artist, a saint, educators and an anthropologist are featured on the currency of Spanish-speaking Latin America. That shows a very different focus from the bills in the United States.
In the US, we once had Martha Washington on the one silver dollar bill long ago in 1886. We’ve had women’s faces on one dollar coins, like the Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony, that were confusingly and ill-advisedly the same size as quarters. This decade, the United States government is talking about Harriet Tubman on our $20. I look forward to the day the bill honoring her is dispensed from every ATM nationwide.
Which famous or not famous people are on your country’s legal tender?
Thanks for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca