Why do Puerto Ricans call the dollar peso?

Why do Puerto Ricans call the dollar peso?

          During my time in the United States I have had to modify my vocabulary and Puerto Rican accent in order to communicate correctly with the community that now surrounds me. Words like coger, zafacón or peso had to be replaced by agarrar, bote de basura y dólar (grab, garbage can and dollar.) This is where my doubt arises as to why we call the dollar a peso?

         Puerto Rico has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since July 1898, making the dollar the island's official currency.  But why do Puerto Ricans call the dollar a peso? It turns out that long before the dollar, coins or pesos circulated from different places, mainly from Spain, Mexico and farms located around the island. In fact, when the United States invaded Puerto Rico, the currency that circulated on the island was the provincial peso, a silver coin for exclusive use in Puerto Rico.

       King Alfonso XIII replaced the mutilated and depreciated Mexican peso and other foreign currencies circulating on the island with the provincial peso in 1895-96. Exchange Bills were issued, with a value of one peso, which would allow the person to redeem its value in silver once the coin was minted at the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre - Real Casa de la Moneda in Madrid, Spain. Denominations of 1 peso, 40 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents and 5 cents were created.

           The provincial peso was devalued by 60% in 1898, after the US invasion, losing its competitiveness against the dollar. And by 1901 the provincial peso had been collected and merged to form the 1902 dollar. More than 120 years have passed since the currency exchange and many Puerto Ricans continue to refer to the dollar as the peso. But not only the dollar has a nickname, the peseta (25 cents), the vellón (10 cents), the ficha (5 cents) and the chavo, chavito or perrita (1 cent) are colloquial words that you can hear around the island at moment of making a transaction, for example.

       If you want to know more about the coins that circulated on the island, you can visit Biografía de las Riquezas de Puerto Rico, where you will find historical information on the coins from different farms on the island, coffee, sugarcane, and more.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.