A Woman to Know: La Malinche

All the information about Eve as a bad person falls on the shoulders of La Malinche. She is the Mexican Eve. — Sandra Cypress

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Even 500 years after her death, La Malinche's name is an insult. In Mexico, "malinchistas" are the people who love foreigners more than they love their own country, the traitors who will forever suffer the price of their betrayal.

But La Malinche's life is more complicated than the single line she's afforded in many history books: "a native interpreter for the Conquistadors," or "an Indian used by the Europeans" or, most damning of them all, "Cortés's girlfriend."

When Hernan Cortés arrived in Mexico, a Mayan lord offered some of his women as gifts to the visiting "god." Some died, others were sent to Europe — but Cortés renamed La Malinche "Doña Marina," and he kept her by his side as an Indian translator. As she lied to her people and ferried information back to the Spaniards, Cortés realized La Malinche's skills to be a crucial necessity for his bloody conquest of Mexico. Once he defeated the mighty Aztecs and dumped his native consort, she remarried another Spaniard — but her illegimate son with Cortés is considered the first of the "mestizos," mixed-race people, to be born in the New Continent. As Mexican writer Octavio Paz wrote centuries later:

He forgot her as soon as her usefulness was over. Doña Marina becomes a figure representing the Indian women who were fascinated, violated or seduced by the Spaniards. And as a small boy will not forgive his mother if she abandons him to search for his father, the Mexican people have not forgiven La Malinche for her betrayal.

And after centuries of scorn, Mexico's feminist artists have been reexamining La Malinche's complicated legacy. Today, some artists paint her as "the Mexican Eve" — mother to many, villain to some, legend to all.

Add to your library list:

Read more:

** Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition. You can browse the archive here. **