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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

La Malinche

b. circa 1505, Painalla, Mexico; date of death unknown

La Malinche, christened Doña Marina by the Spaniards, served as an interpreter, guide, and mistress to Hernán Cortés, the conquistador of Mexico. Little is known of her early life. Believed to be of Aztec or Nahua origin, her family sold her into slavery as an infant. In 1519, Tabascan chiefs gave her to Cortés as a peace offering. He soon tapped Malinche’s facility with language—she was proficient in Nahuatl and Yucatán dialects, and learned Spanish very quickly—and from then on she played an indispensable role in the Conquest (1519–21). Historians have observed that, as the only member of Cortés’ party with a command of the various languages, she literally constructed the political discourse of the colonizing enterprise. In 1522, she gave birth to a son, Martín Cortés, the first mestizo of New Spain. Her death date is variously given as 1527, 1541, and 1550/51. Malinche’s debased image as a traitor to her people has undergone some revision in recent decades thanks to feminist scholarship.