Thursday, March 13, 2014

La Malinche: The slave girl who conquered a nation

Roberto Cueva del Río
This month in history, the breathtakingly vicious Hernán Cortés lands on the borders of Mexico changing the fate of an entire culture. 

Behind every powerful story in history…is an even more powerful woman. La Malinche (Doña Marina) was a beautiful slave given to Cortés as a gift. Serving as an interpreter, she translated from Nahuatl to Mayan while Spanish priest Gerónimo de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish. She gave Cortes a son, most likely syphilis, and the best gift of all – she convinced Montezuma to cooperate with Cortes.

Born in 1496, she was the daughter of a noble Aztec family until her fate got tangled up in politics. When her father died, her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Desiring the son to rule over Malinche, she sold her daughter into slavery and declared her dead. Malinche ended up as a slave to a Mayan lord who later gave Malinche and 19 other slave girls to Cortés as a gift.

Although Cortés isn't exactly remembered for his charity and kindness, by all historical accounts, he was utterly faithful to Malinche. (as if I couldn't turn this into a love story). Cortez later wrote in a letter home, "After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina. " 

She has been portrayed a zillion times in Latin American art and literature, sometimes as a conniving temptress…sometimes as the sacred virgin who brought Christianity to Mexico. (often as both). Whether virgin or harlot, she continues to inspire artists today. Here are a few of my favorite depictions of her:           

"La Gran Tenochtitlan"
Detail from mural by Diego Rivera at Palacio Naciona
La Malinche by Rosario Marquardt, 1992

From: Mexico the way it was and is
Malinche is the lady with the rosaries. Imagine having a boyfriend that sicks dogs on people for fun? I would pray for his soul too. 

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