Wednesday, August 28, 2019

old heroes, new money

There are few things as good for stirring up hysteria as changing currency.

And if there is a bit of identity politics added to the brew, the result can be volatile. Sometimes, just silly.

Mexico is in the process of upgrading its bank notes. The first step was issuing a new 500-peso note. Diego Rivera was replaced with the image of President Benito Juarez.

That was last September (money makes the words go round). Even though the Rivera notes are still circulating, they will be withdrawn eventually -- as will the Juarez 20-peso notes which will be replaced by an increased supply of 20-peso coins. I have yet to see an increase of 20-peso coins in my change.

It will take three more years for all of the banknotes to be updated. When all of the new banknotes are issued, they will represent a chronological outline of Mexico's history. Historical figures from each period will be featured on the front. The reverse will honor Mexico's natural beauty.

The second round of revision starts next month with a new 200-peso note.

The current 200-peso note features one of Mexico's greatest literary figures: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Her image will be removed from the new 200-peso note, but she will reappear on the new 100-peso note that will be issued in 2021 to represent Spain's colonial rule of Mexico. While she is gone, maybe she can write some more inflammatory poetry.

The new 200-peso note will represent Mexico's war of independence from Spain with the portraits of two independence heroes on the front. Miguel Hidalgo will move over from the 1000-peso note and José María Morelos will move over from the 50. The reverse will feature Mexico's desert ecosystem. Reportedly, that will include a golden eagle and and image of El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in the Sonoran desert.

The image at the top of this essay is reportedly a mock-up of the new note.

Even though the Bank of Mexico has released numerous press releases over the past year about the banknote revisions, that has not stopped a certain faction from revving up the whinge klaxon.

There are a group of people who seem to be adverse to almost all change. I am not among them. My immediate reaction to probably 90% of the changes that come my way is: "Why not?" I am not inclined to dispositional conservatism.

But I understand that impulse. Some people just need a little time to adjust to shifting grounds.

What I do not understand is people who seem to be looking for the next good opportunity to pick a fight. While researching this piece I looked at several sites with comments on the revision.

A recurring theme among people who described themselves as immigrants from the north ran similar to this montage. "I am not the least bit surprised that a macho country like Mexico would dump 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz from the currency. She was an early feminist. Instead, she  is replaced by the people who oppressed her: dead white males like Hidalgo and Morales."

There are a couple of problems with that level-headed analysis. First, 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is not being dumped from the currency. She is merely taking a fiscal sabbatical. Her Mona Lisa smile will  be back on the new 100-peso note.
Second, she had died a half-century before either Morelos or Hidalgo were born. I know the "oppressor" accusation is meant to be rhetorical and not necessarily personal. It is true the Catholic church did repress her works and force her to stop writing. But that had nothing to do with either Hidalgo or Morelos. Except for the fact that they were men -- and priests.

And that brings us to the third point -- "white"? I will grant you that Hidalgo was as white as any Hispanic could be. He was the child of a criollo family. But Morelos? He was a mestizo poster boy.
When all of the new notes are issued, this will be the line-up.

The 50-peso note will honor Mexico before the Spanish arrived. The note with the foundation of the enigmatic city-state of Tenochtitlan will be issued in 2022.

The 100-peso note, as you already know, will honor Spain's colonial rule of Mexico. The poet 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz will be the front woman -- to be issued in 2021.

The 200-peso note is coming out next month featuring two heroes of Mexico's war of independence: 
 Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos.

The 500-peso note honoring La Reforma and featuring President Benito Juarez was issued last year.

The 1000-peso note (which we rarely see in these parts) will honor the Mexican Revolution. There were so many national heroes who fought in the revolution (often killing one another), the people to be featured on the bill must have been a difficult choice for the bank. They ended up making three interesting choices: Francisco I. Madero, Hermila Galindo, and Carmen Serdán. I suspect almost all non-Mexicans (and some Mexicans) will be a bit confounded by the choices.

Madero was the presidential first fruit of the revolution. Galindo was a feminist leader during and after the revolution. 
Serdán was a writer and intellectual whose ideas helped spark the 1910 revolution. One man. Two women. The political identity folk should have kept their powder dry.

That note will be issued in 2020.

The Bank of Mexico is also considering whether it needs to issue a 2000-peso note honoring modern history with the faces of diplomat-poet 
Octavio Paz and author-poet Rosario Castellanos. There is no release date.

If the bank does issue the new-denomination note, it will be a mixed bag of economic signals. The bad signal will be that the Bank is not meeting its monetary inflation targets. The good sign will be that, as the economy continues to grow and people become more upwardly mobile, the demand for larger denomination banknotes will increase.

It will also be a signal that the government has effectively abandoned its target to make Mexico less of a cash-oriented economy. Of course, that was the policy of the last government. 

So, here is my suggestion for those of us who use cash here in Mexico. Get ready for a wide range of notes -- all of which are legal tender. I still get the odd Zaragoza 500-peso note in change. The next three years will put new pictures in our pocket.

And, speaking of pockets, you may want to re-enforce yours. With the arrival of more 20-peso coins to replace the 20-peso notes that are being withdrawn, your pockets may bulge a bit.

As for me, once September rolls around, I will be looking for my first Hidalgo-Morelos 200-peso note.

Maybe I will get one in the change I so admire.

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