Mexico III: La Malinche

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:04:10
Year Produced: 2010
Description:

Reviled as a traitor, La Malinche is alleged to have served as a translator and mistress to Conquistador Hernán Cortés and became the mother of his first son.

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Transcript

Lead: Reviled as a traitor, La Malinche is alleged to have served as a translator and mistress to Conquistador Hernán Cortés and became the mother of his first son.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Although she lives in folklore and legends, there is actually little known about the life of La Malinche and the derivation of her name is uncertain. Some historians believe Malinche was a corruption of her given Nahua name, Malintzin.

Malinche was born at the turn of the 16th century in south-central Mexico in a small Nahua town located between land bordering the Aztec empire and the Mayan settlements of the Yucatan Peninsula. After her father died and her mother remarried, the young girl was sold into slavery and lived in present-day Tabasco on the coast of southeastern Mexico. In 1519, Hernán Cortés and his Spanish conquistadors sailed around the coast of Yucatan and landed at the Bay of Campeche where they subjugated the native people.

As a peace offering, the Spaniards were presented with twenty indigenous female slaves, one of whom caught the eye of Cortés, most likely for her youth and beauty. More importantly, Malinche became invaluable to Cortés because of her aptitude for languages. She spoke Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and her native language as well as Mayan dialects. Malinche did not speak Spanish at first, so she translated the Aztec language into Mayan dialect because a member of Cortés’ crew could translate Mayan into Spanish. Malinche quickly learned Spanish and served as personal translator to Cortés during the conquest of Mexico.

She converted to Christianity, took the name Doña Marina, and is said to have presented Cortés a son, Don Martín Cortés, in 1522. Four years later, after she accompanied Cortés on his expedition to Honduras, Malinche married one of Cortés’ captains, Juan Jaramillo. Little is known about her from then on.

Today in Mexico, to many, she represents a figure of betrayal. The term “malinchismo” means a preference for foreign people or things and “malinchista” refers to a traitorous or disloyal Mexican.

Research assistance by Ann Johnson. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.