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La Malinche

Much maligned La Malinche—aka la traidora (the traitor)—the beautiful and possibly treacherous translator and mistress of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), agitates Mexicans to this day. Her cryptic, mythic role in their history is often wrestled with, seldom put to rest.

Why do some Mexicans hate her so?

Her detractors say that by helping Cortés, La Malinche was the ultimate betrayer of the indigenous people of Mexico. Others, however, believe that when La Malinche gave birth to the son of Cortés, she became the mother of all mestizos (people with mixed American indigenous and European ancestry). Still others debate about her shrewd negotiations, did these help or hurt her own people?

Even Nobel-winning Mexican intellectual Octavio Paz couldn´t stop talking about her, mostly in unflattering terms, in "The Labyrinth of Solitude." He labels her "the cruel incarnation of the feminine condition" and decides she willingly submitted to her violation by Cortés. According to Paz, this unholy union led to the downfall of the Aztecs and the troubled birth of modern Mexico. Even her name is an insult. A malinchista is a traitor, one who loves foreigners.

The Woman Behind the Name

What historians do agree on is that La Malinche, also known as Doña Marina, was born to a noble family along the Mexican Gulf Coast, circa 1496 – 1505. She was handed off to slave traders after her father died and her mother remarried and produced a male heir. In 1519, La Malinche and 19 other women were given to Cortés and his men.

From Translator to Wife

Malinche's talents as a translator came to light, and soon she was translating her native Nahuatl into Mayan, which Spanish priest Gerónimo de Aguilar translated into Spanish for Cortés. When Malinche learned Spanish, she became the mouthpiece and chief negotiator for Cortés. Notably, she arranged and translated meetings between Cortés and Montezuma. In 1522, La Malinche bore Cortés a son, Don Martín Cortés, who eventually rose in politics but came to a tragic, tortured end. What happened to La Malinche is sketchy. Perhaps she married another Spaniard and had a daughter. The date of her death is given circa 1529-1550.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Mexico: Palacio de Bellas Artes, General Info, Centro Cultural Olimpio (Olimpio Cultural Center) , La Virgin de Guadalupe and General Info.

01 Sep 2009

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