A bit unrelated, but I love this video.

It’s the legend of the 5th sun, the current era on the Aztec calendar.

The video is in Spanish and the animation is a bit clunky, but fantastic nonetheless.

I love the mythology.  It reveals so much about the Aztec mindset.


Motecuhzoma y Malinche

Motecuhzoma y Malinche by Manuel Vilar (Museo Nacional de Artes, Mexico City)

I dislike that Motecuhzoma’s name was change to “Montezuma.”  I also dislike that Malintzin’s name (or Malinalli, which was her actual name; the -tzin is a suffix that means “lady”) was changed to Doña Marina.  It seems like such an imperious thing to do.  “I don’t like your name.  It’s difficult to pronounce, so I’m going to call you this bastardized version instead.”

El sueño de la Malinche

El sueño de la Malinche / Malinche's Dream by Antonio Ruiz (Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City, 1939).

Malinche Reborn

moon faced woman
eyes of earth brown
seeking wisdom in writing
dreamt of big fat rat
grabbing, tearing her throat
throwing premonition away
she danced & twirled
under the lunar light

daughter of darken caves
daughter of buried secrets

tossing caution warnings
like white petaled flowers on
morning dew grass
secure well hidden she thought
her forest of curtained emotions
lured enticed like her ancient ancestor
by flour faced creatures
only to be found out discovered
in the morning light
wet by forest tears
morning moisture brands her
she stands betrayed
a traitor to herself

she is malinche.

— Helen Silvas (1988)



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.

La Malinche

When I was a child, I was a voracious reader.  I spent a lot of time in the public library, leafing through the nonfiction books — especially the ones about women.  Amelia Earhart.  Harriet Tubman.  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Anne Frank.  I loved that their stories were real, that their lives were real.  At the same time, I felt a little sad that there weren’t any books featuring women who were more like me, who had families who spoke Spanish and whose grandmothers made tortillas from scratch.  The only female, other than the Virgen de Guadalupe, who was ever mentioned in any kind of historical, cultural context was La Malinche.  And she was no role model.  Her name was spoken with derision.  It piqued my curiosity.  Who was this cursed woman?

I remember asking my grandfather who La Malinche was.  He said, “Una traidora.”  A traitor.  The only other traitor I was familiar with was Benedict Arnold because we had learned about him in history.  It was exciting and a little thrilling that there was a traitor in my history, the one we didn’t learn about in school.  But I picked up on my grandfather’s disdain and decided she must have been a terrible person to betray her people and her country.

Of course, history isn’t that simple and people aren’t one-dimensional.  And this leads me back to:  Who was La Malinche?

Malinalli.  Malintzin.  Doña Marina.  La Malinche.  She has so many names, which seems fitting because no one really knows who she was.  Her story depends upon the storyteller.  Facts are scarce:  She lived, she died.  And somewhere in the middle, she helped change the history of an entire country.

I want to learn as much as I can.

Cortes and Malinche by Jose Clemente Orozco (1923-1926). Mural on ceiling at the Antiguo Colegio de San Idelfonso, Mexico City, Mexico.