Malinche

Mestizaje

Cortes, Malinche, and their son, Martin in Coyoacan.

This is the name that her descendants have given her.  She is the cursed, the damned, the one who cannot be trusted. Her name is an epithet; a malinchista is someone who aligns him or herself with outsiders.  A traitor.

In a culture where family is everything, disloyalty is difficult — if not impossible — to forgive.

In Octavio Paz‘s essay, Hijos de la Chingada, La Malinche is “la chingada.”  This is more than an insult.  It is crude, coarse, and bitter.  It is, literally, “the fucked one.”  It implies guilt and complicity rather than victimization.  All euphemisms have been stripped away and what remains is stark, severe, and foul.  It reeks of blame and judgment.  This is not a woman who has been violated; on the contrary, she has been a willing consort.  A whore.  No wonder her name is spoken with derision and contempt.

This is not something from the past.  In 1997, there was an article in the New York Times that reported that a statue of Cortés, Malinche, and their son, Martín, had to be moved to an obscure park in response to protests from inhabitants in that neighborhood.  Five hundred years after the Conquest, hard feelings, shame, and resentment linger.

This view is absolutist.  Either/or.  Either she was a savior, or Malinche was a traitor.  And if she was a traitor, then she was as responsible for the death of a civilization as Cortés.

But can human beings be reduced to the simplest versions of themselves?  Are they either/or?

And can we look back on the actions taken by someone who lived 500 years ago, in a world that we can only know theoretically, and impose judgment based on intellectual hindsight?

I am fascinated by this Mesoamerican woman who changed the world.  And yet … I wonder what she thought as she watched ruthless Spanish soldiers slaughter men, women, and children at Cholula.  I dislike hearing her tale told as a love story, as if a 16th century Indian woman and Spanish soldier were star-crossed lovers, a Mesoamerican Romeo and Juliet, caught up in earth-shattering events beyond their control.  It’s difficult for me to imagine anything romantic between Malinche and Cortés.  She bore his child, then he gave her away to his soldiers while he returned to Spain with her son.  I don’t see La Chingada in this woman.  It’s possible she preferred the Spaniards to the Mayans or the Aztecs.  The Spaniards used her, but they also gave her a veneer of respectability.  She was a valued translator.  She was renamed Doña Marina, elevated from slave to lady.  She married, had a daughter.  She was commemorated in Bernal Díaz del Castillo‘s The History of the Conquest of New Spain but only tangentially. No one recorded her thoughts or what was in her heart.  No one wrote down what she feared, whether she was bitter, or if she loved.  Her story has been handed down secondhand, which makes it suspect.  History is self-serving.

I have a series of articles to read about La Malinche, but I wanted to write down my initial thoughts so that, at the end of the semester, I can look back and remember that I felt torn.  I don’t presume to put myself in her shoes and know why she did what she did, but I am sad that an entire civilization was destroyed with her help.  I understand the struggle of the modern mestizo to find peace within him- or herself, being neither Spanish nor indigenous but an uncomfortable mix of the two.

As I read more, learn more, ruminate more, I hope to get a clearer picture and perhaps find a little bit of that peace.  And maybe validate that she deserves to be defined by different terminology, that she was more than a malinchista, more than la chingada, and more than a simplistic, improbable love story.

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