Ever wondered who you’re looking at when you count your Mexican bills? Mexican currency celebrates many of Mexico’s artists, leaders, and visionaries.
$20 peso note: Benito Juárez (1806-1872) – the president of Mexico from 1861-72
He is the only full-blooded indigenous national to serve as President. The years of his rule are known as “La Reforma” as he aimed to improve indigenous rights, liberalize land distribution, and check the power of the Roman Catholic Church. All this, and his resistance to French occupation, have caused him to be called Mexico’s greatest leader. Quote: “Between individuals, as between nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
$50 peso note: José María Morelos
(1765-1815) – national hero.
A Catholic Priest, in 1810 he began to raise armies for Miguel Hidalgo’s rebellion against Spain, and became the leader of the rebellion after Hidalgo’s death. In 1813 he called the first congress of free states, the result of which was Mexico’s Declaration of Independence. In 1815 Morelos was captured by Spanish forces and tried by the Viceroy’s military court and the Inquisition. He was tried and condemned to be defrocked for heresy and to be executed for treason. In addition to the city of Morelia, the state of Morelos is named after him. Morelos was offered the title of generalissimo and the style of address Your Highness, but he refused these and asked to be called Siervo de la Nación (Servant of the Nation).
$100 peso note: Nezahualcoyotl
(1402-1472) -Texcoco philosopher-king, Aztec poet
Nezahualcoyotl was King of Texcoco, a part of the Aztec empire. At the age of 15, he escaped to Tenochtitlán after the massacre that resulted in his father’s murder, and devoted the next decade of his life to study. He then returned to Texcoco to dethrone the usurper that sat on his father’s throne.
A true philosopher-king, he encouraged the arts in Texcoco and developed an advanced code of laws that was adopted throughout the Aztec empire. He composed numerous poems, in his native Nahuatl language, which were later translated into Spanish. Written in very tiny print on the 100 peso note is the following poem:
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jade stone
And the enervating perfume of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother: man.
$200 peso note: Juana de Asbaje
(1651-1695) – America’s first feminist poet
A self-educated woman, from a poor family, at the age of 19 she joined a convent so that she could dedicate her life to writing and scientific scholarship. She composed plays and poems that questioned the role of women in society, the heartbreaks of love, and the hypocrisy of men. Considered controversial, she was strongly pressured by the Church to stop writing about non-theological issues. After repenting to a Jesuit inquisitor, she stopped writing for the last two years of her life. The Church forced her to sell her extensive library and donate the money to the poor. She died of the plague while caring for the other nuns in her convent, leaving a collection of 26 plays, 13 essays, and 100 poems.
This evening, my love, as I spoke to you and saw it in your face and in your acts that I was not persuading you with words, I longed for you to look upon my heart.
$500 peso note: Diego Rivera (1886-1957) – renowned artist
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera (December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) was a prominent Mexican painter and the husband of Frida Kahlo. His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals among others in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
$1000 peso note: Miguel Hidalgo (1753-1811) – independence hero
Don Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo-Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor (8 May 1753 – 30 July 1811), more commonly known as Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla or simply Miguel Hidalgo, was a Mexican priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a priest, Miguel Hidalgo served in a church in Dolores, Mexico. After his arrival, he was shocked by the poverty he found. He tried to help the poor by showing them how to grow olives and grapes, but in Mexico it was discouraging to grow those crops because of Spanish imports of the items. In 1810 he gave the famous speech, “The Cry of Dolores”, calling upon the people to protect the interest of their King Fernando VII (held captive by Napoleon) by revolting against the European-born Spaniards who had overthrown the Spanish Viceroy. As he then marched across Mexico, he gathered an army of nearly 90,000 poor farmers and Mexican civilians. They attacked and killed both Peninsular and American born Spanish elites. But Hidalgo’s army lacked training and was poorly armed. Eventually, Hidalgo’s army ran into a clan of 6,000 well trained and armed Spanish troops. Much of Hidalgo’s army fled or was killed. Hidalgo himself was later executed by a firing squad on July 30, 1811.
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