Searching for the Face of an Icon
By Elizabeth Olmedo
In 1959, with a rise in national pride in their Mayan heritage, the Bank of Guatemala commissioned a search to find the most beautiful Mayan woman whose profile would represent the beauty of the Mayan culture on the nation’s 25-cent coin.
Today known as the “Choca,” the 25-cent Quetzal coin received its nickname due to the visibility of only one eye, much like the profile found on the Lincoln penny.
In Guatemala, people colloquially refer to someone who can’t see well as “choco.”
The original face of the coin established in 1950 was deemed not to have been a true representation of Mayan beauty and they were obligated to go back to the drawing board. So who is the woman that we find today on the 25-cent Quetzal coin dressed in traditional Mayan garb, wearing a tocoyal (headdress)?
Architect Ovidio Villeda Moscoso was given the task of creating the iconic image for the coin. Prior to beginning the search, he spent months at the Guatemalan Museum of Natural of History researching what defined the traditional Mayan facial features. Photographer Julio Zadik then traveled to Santiago Atitlán (one of the largest towns on the edge of Guatemala’s most treasured Lake Atitlán) where a competition was held to search for women who most personified the Mayan features.
Out of a competition of thousands of Mayan women, Zadik photographed the three winners and Ovidio Villeda created the ideal composite based on those portraits. That image now adorns the 25-cent coin.
One of those girls was Doña (Lady) Concepción Ramírez, known affectionately among her neighbors as Doña Chonita. Though only 17 at the time Zadik took her photograph, she has become an inspiration and voice for women.
Doña Chonita continues to live in Santiago Atitlán and people travel from around the globe to visit the woman whose portrait has influenced Guatemalan history. Viewed as a model of humility and distinction, she has received numerous prizes and tributes. Doña Chonita has become a face and spokesperson for the Mayan culture — a timeless culture that we, at everMaya, strive to share with others through our one-of-a-kind handbags, custom pillow covers, and decorative lamps.