At the turn of the 16th Century a baby girl was born to an Aztec chief in a province of Mexico. As was the custom of her people she was named after the day of her birth, a name that would later haunt Mexican history and become synonymous with the destruction of the Aztec empire for all time.
Her name, Malinche.
Malinche was born in 1502 and as the daughter of an Aztec chief she was educated and privileged, however, when her father died her mother remarried and gave Malinche away to traders in hopes of securing her inheritance for Malinche’s half brother. Because this act would have been met with disapproval Malinche’s mother faked her daughters death in order to validate the girls disappearance. It was through this that Malinche came to be living on the Yacutan coast when Hernanan Cortes landed there in 1519 to secure new riches and territory for the Spanish crown.
It happened that through her past of having been traded, Malinche was able to speak a number languages native to the land she inhabited. This proved useful to her survival when she was given to Cortes as part of 20 women gifted to the conquistador from the chief of her current village. Under Cortes’s care she was baptised Marina, a sort of Spanish equivalent to Malinche, and after gaining the respect of the Spanish party she became known as Doña Marina.
When Cortes set out to conquer Aztec Mexico under the seal of the Spanish Crown, Malinche traveled with him acting as his interpreter for the different dialects spoken within the various tribes. With her aide Cortes was able to succeed in his bloody march across the country towards the great city of Tenochtitlan. She attended every meeting with Cortes and was instrumental in negotiations with Mexican natives both on and off the battlefield. Through her linguistic, strategic, and astounding persuasive skills she was able to prevent the loss of life that would most certainly have been monumentally higher had she not been present.
Once Cortes took the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, home to Emperor Moctezuma II, or, if you’d prefer, Montezuma, his conquest was complete and there was no longer a role for Doña Marina to fill. However, during her time in Tenochtitlan Malinche fell pregnant and bore Cortes a healthy son, whom he named Martin after his own father, a great honour for both child and mother. Later Cortes sent the boy back to Spain to be educated and Malinche was ‘given’ to Cortes’s aide, Don Juan Jaramillo, in marriage. In a show of further respect to Malinche, she was awarded a large amount of land and the indigenous inhabitants to farm it. She lived on this land, converting native inhabitants to Christianity and educating them, until her husband passed. Her son later returned from Spain but refused to acknowledge his Indian mother, leaving her quite bereaved.
Malinche seems to fade into obscurity after the death of her husband, although truth be told, her life and all she did is difficult to find reliable information on. While Cortes wrote of his conquest in his Cartas to the Emperor Charles V he mentions little of his native aide, the same of which can be said for other early histories regarding the conquest. However, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España written by Bernal Diaz del Castillo after his service to Cortes in the New World, credits Malinche with all she did for the campaign. Diaz del Castillo’s Historia is seen by historians as one of the most accurate primary sources regarding Malinche and her role with the Spanish Conquistador.
Still for all that was done to her and by her Malinche and Doña Marina are names that continue to carry a dirty undertone when spoken aloud. And while she is credited with being the mother of modern day Mexico, it seems that not even that can save her name from the historical tarnish associated with it.
For the list of articles used to write this entry please see below.
Candelaria, Cordelia 1980, “La Malinche, Feminist Prototype”, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol 5, No. 2, pp 1-6
Chaison, Joanne Danaher 1976, “Mysterious Mallinche: A case of Mistaken Identity”, The Americas, Vol.32, No. 4 (April 1976), pp. 514-523
Downs, Kristina 2008, “Mirrored Archetypes: The Contrasting Cultural Roles of La Malinche and Pocahontas”, Western Folklore,. Vol. 67, No. 4 (Fall 2008), pp. 397-414
Pratt, Mary Louise 1993, “ “Yo Soy Malinche”: Chicana Writers and the Poetics of Ethnonationalism”, Callaloo, Vol.6 No.4, On “Post Colonial Discourse”: A special Issue (Autumn 1993), pp. 859-873
Smith, William W. 1994, “Women and Genocide: Notes on an Unwritten History”, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol.8, No. 3 (Winter 1994), pp. 315-334
A meeting between Cortes and Moctezuma with Malinche translating by Cortes’s side.