Túmin is an alternative currency that emerged in Veracruz, Mexico in 2010. About the size of a credit card, Túmin notes are printed with vibrant illustrations that vary from state to state. Each Túmin note is equivalent to one peso, one minute of work or even one US dollar. It is both a unit of exchange and a currency that comes in 1, 5, 10, and 20 denominated notes.
In southern Mexico, Itzel Castro sits behind the counter at a small artisanal store tucked along a colourful side street. She welcomes customers as they browse shelves stacked full of food, books and accessories. When the customers check out, Castro offers them change – not in pesos, but in Túmin.
Castro works at Túmin Tienda in San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas. It’s a space dedicated to supporting local producers and cultivating awareness about the currency. Castro sells her homemade flour and cheeses at the store. She is one of ten Túministas who opened the space last month – making her one of more than 350 vendors using the currency in the town, of around 2,500 nationwide.
Communities around Mexico are increasingly turning to the fringe currency to foster solidarity amid economic instability and inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now present in 24 of Mexico’s 32 states – with 723 vendors in the eastern coastal state of Veracruz and 567 in Oaxaca.
As the currency isn’t accepted by large companies, Túmin encourages consumers to purchase local products. And since banks don’t recognise it, it can’t accrue interest, so users are incentivised to circulate the currency rather than accumulate it.
“This community currency will not go to large transnational stores never to return, but will remain circulating and prevent scarcity in the community,” explained academic and Túmin activist Juan Castro (no relation to Itzel).
“The objective is to satisfy the needs of communities by allowing products and services to be paid for with Túmin. In this way, the economy is diversified and official money, which is now less necessary, is disempowered.”
The currency – usually, but not always, used alongside the peso in transactions (for example, paying half in each currency or receiving 20% change in Túmin) – was the brainchild of researchers from the Intercultural University of Veracruz, who were conducting a project on rural communities. They observed that the growth of local markets in Veracruz state was being hampered by their inability to compete with large companies.
Fruit and vegetable producers from the Veracruz town of El Espinal, home to around 25,000 mostly indigenous people, soon came together to print and use Túmin to tackle local cash shortages and rising prices.
They also sought to stimulate sales through lower costs. Túministas generally sell at cheaper prices when accepting Túmin as a gesture of solidarity with consumers.