Latin Legends: La Malinche

The first entry on the Latin Legends series is perhaps one of the most controversial: La Malinche. La Malinche is one of several names associated with Malintzin or Doña Marina, whom depending on one’s point of view, is one of the most famous or infamous figures in Mexican history. Malintzin was a Nahua woman who served as an adviser, interpreter, and lover of Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés. Her parents sold her off into slavery at a young age to the Tobascans, who in turn sold her to Cortés. She helped her newfound master gain an understanding of the Aztec tongue, which was instrumental in helping the Spaniards destroy the Aztec Empire.

Moreover, she is thought to have given birth to the first Mestizos – whom form most of the racial/ethnic population of modern Mexico. Her cultural status expanded during the Mexican Revolution, when the state began to express the cultural hegemony of Mestizaje – the privilege of having an admixture of both Indigenous and Spanish “blood” to form a unique Mexican identity.

Because of her role in helping the Spanish Empire into destroying her kin and condemning them to brutal European rule, La Malinche is considered to be a traitor throughout Mexico. She is so reviled by many that they portray her as a scheming wench or an incubus of sorts. She is even combined with the legend of La Llorona, the crying mother who wanders as a phantom forever searching for the children she murdered.

However, more recent feminist interpretations have posited her as being a constant victim who tried to be free. As they argue, she was sold off into slavery by her own Empire before Cortés took advantage her further. The patriarchal systems of both sides violated her rights as a human being, which forced her into making unpleasant decisions to survive. Thus, she had a legitimate interest to see the destruction of empire that neglected and abused her. At the same time, she was never going to enjoy any privileges underneath the Spanish Empire. As such, La Malinche, who died in 1529, will remain a divisive and controversial figure in Mexican consciousness.

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