Malintzin, popularly known as La Malinche, must be reassessed in Mexican history


Traitor or survivor? The other look at La Malinche, the translator of Hernán Cortés

A few weeks after the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, the figure of Malintzin, popularly known as La Malinche, must be reassessed with justice and greater historical knowledge, specialists agree.

In a broadcast of the Thursday of debate program, hosted by the senator and performing artist Jesusa Rodríguez in Capital 21, the woman from Oluta who served as Hernán Cortés’s translator was vindicated as a brave woman who imposed herself on an adverse situation and who, on the contrary, what has been said about her cannot be described as a “traitor”.

For the lawyer and writer Yelitza Ruiz, Malintzin has been historically slandered, like other women in national history, and tried as guilty of a series of crimes that illustrate the hostility with which women are viewed in historical processes.

“It is fair that this representation of Malintzin can give us that first entry to dialogue about the power relations that women have historically had, not only with men but with the world in general,” said Ruiz.

According to the linguist and writer Yásnaya Aguilar, official history has tried to minimize Malintzin’s role in a complex episode that, moreover, is understood from a colonial logic that does not correspond to the time.

“The memory that is kept of her in other spaces that are not the spaces of official history makes us see a complex woman, a woman who was in extraordinary circumstances and who had a fundamental role in what happened 500 years ago.

” The only way we can call her ‘traitor’, as she has been called historically, is to think that the Mexico of today is Tenochtitlan and that is not the case; that identification of current Mexico with only one of the cities of that time, which was Tenochtitlan, is oversimplifying what happened there. “

In turn, the historian Federico Navarrete stated that the history of Malintzin is usually subordinated to the figure of Cortés, which does not allow us to understand her true power with the use of the word and her precarious situation as a slave.


“We have built all this romantic legend about Cortés and Malintzin, but I think that does nothing more than subordinate her to Cortés and turn him into the typical ungrateful male who leaves her behind and throws her away, turns her into a disposable and I think that is not Malintzin at all if we see his story, “he reflected.

In a broadcast from the Cosmos Arts and Crafts Factory, Rodríguez raised public concerns with specialists, such as why Malintzin is known by other names, such as Marina, Malinalli, and Malinche.

“Like many women who are held captive, most likely the woman we know as Marina or Malintzin lost her original name when she was taken from her family or her original context,” Navarrete replied.

“Probably her original name was oluteco, which was a Mixe-Zoquean language, because she was from Oluta, so her name was probably in that language. The first name we know is Marina, which is a Spanish name they gave her,” he added. .

"La Malinche", a woman who was abandoned, sold, enslaved and accused of betraying her people

Based on the dialogue, Rodríguez introduced issues on the national agenda to the debate, such as the letter that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent to the government of Spain to request that they apologize for the violations against the population of the current Mexican territory 500 years ago.

“I believe that it should not be the head of the Mexican State, regardless of who it is, who is empowered to do so, why? Because we know that, historically, the Mexican State is heir, it is a Creole project and it is heir to, during 200 years of colonial oppression, it is a colonial project too, “Yásnaya Aguilar said in this regard.

Likewise, after a shared dissertation on the validity of the system that enslaved Malintzin, the legislator for Morena held a “popular consultation” with the audience on which monument should be put in place of the Colón that was removed from Paseo de la Reforma, a discussion that it has already been taken to the Senate.

Following the opinion of the participants in the program, the public decided that a monument to indigenous women should be erected at this site, including the presence of Malintzin.

Next Thursday, at 6:00 p.m., by Capital 21, a new debate will be held towards the commemoration of the 500 years of the fall of Tenochtitlan.

The demand of the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to King Felipe VI of Spain and Pope Francis, to offer an apology for the grievances committed against the indigenous people during the so-called Conquest, between 1519 and 1521, opens the door to review the myth of the Malinche, the indigenous woman who was the translator of Hernán Cortés in the conquest of Tenochtitlán.

Although the request was immediately denied by the king, 500 years after the arrival of the Spanish, Mexico could begin to make a historical review of this character that has been so little valued between the two nations.

Essays, books, documentaries, and animated films have been written about Malinche, and a term was even invented, ” malinchismo “, which means the rejection of one’s own in pursuit of the foreign.

In an attempt to understand the idiosyncrasy of the Mexican, the Mexican poet, and essayist Octavio Paz wrote: “The symbol of dedication is Malinche, Cortés’s lover. in search of his father, the Mexican people do not forgive his betrayal of Malinche. “

However, two questions remain: Where does the contempt come from? When was the myth built?

The myth of betrayal

The academic Berenice Alcántara, from the Historical Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), takes us back to the 19th century, after the Independence movement when the controversy over Malinche began to emerge.

“A national story began to be told in which everything that was related to Spanish, in some way, was considered the enemy, the invader, the oppressor,” he says.

Alcántara says that in a review of history, suitable for that time, that vision of Malinche as a traitorous and servile woman began to take shape for helping Cortés and betraying what was supposed to be an ” indigenous homeland .”

However, according to the academic, that indigenous homeland did not exist because the peoples in the 16th century were divided into very different political units .

Berenice Alcántara, academic at the Institute of Historical Research of the UNAM.

Berenice Alcántara, academic at the Institute of Historical Research of the UNAM.”For the people of Iztapalapa, those of Xochimilco were foreigners, for those of Xochimilco the Mexica were foreigners, that is, they lived in a world where all those who belonged to a different town were seen with the same strangeness. And the Spaniards were inserted in this multicultural context, of different ethnic and political identities “.

The firsts years

MalintzinMalinalli or Doña Marina, as the Spanish later baptized her, was born into a noble family in the early years of the 16th century, in the Coatzacoalcos region, in southeastern Mexico.

In those years, the Mexica (known as Aztecs) roamed the region, harassed and threatened to establish their dominance by numerous peoples. For the Malinche family, the Aztecs most likely represented the enemy.

Little is known about the first years of Malintzin’s life, but it is estimated that between 8 and 12 years she was given to Aztec merchants (it is unknown if by her own parents), who took her to Xicallando (Tabasco) and later sold her to Mayans.

“We have no idea how this process was, but whatever it was, it was evidently a violent situation, having been separated from her family, social nucleus and traded by merchants to carry out menial jobs in different places,” says Alcántara.

A new life

Camilla Townsend, the author of ‘Malintzin: An Indigenous Woman in the Conquest of Mexico’, explains in an interview with RT that Malinche could have spent nearly 10 years of her life with the Chontal Mayans, mainly in housework and weaving .

In these years, “most likely she was used sexually for the first time, ” explains the historian from Rutgers University in New Jersey in the biography.

Separated from her family in the years when this nucleus represents everything, forced to do household chores and quite possibly used sexually. With these three events in the life of Malinche, in March 1519 the Spaniards arrived in Potonchan and fought a fierce battle with the inhabitants of Centla, which ended with the delivery of food, gold jewelry and 20 maidens to the foreigners, who they were distributed by Cortés among the expedition.

Obey or stand out?

Already in the hands of Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero, an important element of the expedition, Doña Marina had two options: obey or stand out among the expedition .

Berenice Alcántara, academic at the Institute of Historical Research of the UNAM.

Berenice Alcántara, academic at the Institute of Historical Research of the UNAM.”She could have decided to remain a slave, to continue doing the same jobs that she did (…) but she decided to do the opposite.

As the Spaniards advanced through the Gulf of Mexico and exchanged some objects with the local population, each distrusting the other, Jerónimo de Aguilar, a Spaniard who was shipwrecked in Yucatán, failed to translate Nahuatl and provoked Cortés annoyance. That’s when Malintzin decided not to keep quiet and began translating for the Spanish, who were desperately seeking to find Moctezuma, the powerful Aztec ‘king’.

In that first interpretation for Cortés, the myth of La Malinche began to take shape.

La Malinche: ¿realmente fue una traidora?

La Malinche in the Conquest

In a very short time, the Malinche began to gain the respect of the expedition and it was not for less because she helped them to get food and gifts, to weave alliances with indigenous peoples who saw the Aztecs as enemies, to dominate territories, and to dictate the new rules to the conquered. She would also become one of Cortés’s mistresses.

Camilla Townsend, a historian at Rutgers University.

Camilla Townsend, a historian at Rutgers University.”We cannot be sure what would have happened without her, but we can be sure that Hernán Cortés would have had enough problems.”

“Look, it’s not just this expedition, it’s the one that’s coming, they’re going to lose more, better make an alliance,” says Townsend, imagining those negotiations in which Malintzin participated.  

Fall of Tenochtitlán 

With significant resistance and a siege that lasted for months, finally on August 19, 1521, the Spanish were able to conquer Tenochtitlán, the bastion of the Aztec Empire.

For the historian Alcántara, without this efficient negotiator and with great information management, the process would have been more complicated and greater conflicts would have occurred between the Spanish and the armies of indigenous peoples that began to ally with outsiders.

Without Malintzin, “Courteous would probably have been more violent,” Townsend says.

The legacy

With the fall of Tenochtitlán, Malintzin went to live in Coyoacán, a mayoralty in present-day Mexico City, and had a son by Cortés, Martín Cortés. With the arrival of Hernán Cortés’s wife in Coyoacán, the conqueror married Malintzin to Juan Jaramillo, with whom he would have a daughter named María Jaramillo.

More than a traitor, specialists consider that Malinche did what she could under the difficult circumstances she faced. As Townsend recalls, she also saved her two children, to whom she gave legal rights.

Alcántara also highlights that she was “an exceptional woman” because, under those circumstances, she obtained legal recognition within the Spanish order.

500 years after the arrival of the Spanish and at a time when President López Obrador demands Spain’s forgiveness, the UNAM researcher considers that the figure of Malinche should be “vindicated” and used to understand the complexity of her position as an Indigenous woman

Malinchismo is a term used to refer to a social complex that prefers what is foreign and despises what is it’s own. The word derives from “Malinche”, the nickname Dona Marina received because of her preference for the Spanish conqueror instead of favoring her own.

La Malinche a woman deprived of her home abandoned to her fate, sold, enslaved, and blamed for taking control of her life and trying to survive in a world full of abuse and injustice. Could she really be considered a “traitor”?

What do you think of this story? What other version do you know about the life of Dona Marina? Tell us in the comments.


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