Lempira Y Mentira: Paja Monetaria
I felt a sense of pride when I held a Lempira for the first time. I even started tucking my hair behind my ears when I wore bandanas to evoke a resemblance to the cacique. Truth is, I grew up knowing very little about Honduran history and this was the first symbol I could associate with my culture that didn't have something to do with a monstrous train, natural disasters, or ruthless maras.
After reading Euraque's The Threat of Blackness to the Mestizo Nation...I felt bamboozled. In my illusion, I hoped to be a descendant of El Indio Lempira and in my romanticization, I fell for a state-sponsored myth-building project. This project expands the reach of whiteness while casting a shadow over the lives of millions of Hondurans--indigenous and black. Euraque suggests that the Honduran elite made [El Indio] Lempira (all the Hondurans I know add "El Indio" when referring to the man on the bill) the national symbol of the country in response to 1. labor struggles in the banana industry and 2. to further the post-independent goal of making Honduras an Indo-Hispanic nation (230). Indo-Hispanic can best be understood as a colonized and colonizer identity that merges to maintain colonial systems of the European invasion post-independence.
The term "Ladino," which Patricia Smith described as the “absence of,” invisibilized indigenous people and culture by creating a colonized category of people who weren't white but who also weren't Indian. On one hand, the recipients - or the non-Indian mixed-race Ladinos - benefited because they moved away from identifying markers of inferiority. And on the other hand, the privileges now afforded to them as "Ladinos" meant they moved closer to whiteness--in terms at least--and they now had a stake in maintaining the colonial system of racial hierarchy, with blacks at the bottom. A Ladino could have more flexibility in occupational labor opportunities and thus, more freedoms than others. The associations with the term "Ladino" created a shadow over people that would otherwise be Indian and most certainly over black Hondurans.
In thinking about the colonial system of racial categorization on a spectrum, with whites on one side and blacks on the opposite, the Indian can very well be placed in the middle. Whiteness was first limited but post-independent Honduras expanded its reach towards the middle to incorporate Indios as Ladinos. Thus, moving them closer to whiteness. This incorporation protects whiteness by expanding freedoms to those who will, in turn, protect it while at the same time constructing the Indo-Hispanic national identity. This dynamic leaves the opposite side of the spectrum, black Hondurans in the margins. It does so actively. That is what El Indio Lempira on a currency note of the post-independent Honduran state means to me now. It is the elites' attempt to reach the middle, to incorporate non-Indian Indios, as a symbol of the merger between colonized and colonizer, without acknowledgment whatsoever to our own blackness.