La Malinche (meaning ‘the captain’s woman’), also known as ‘Malinalli’, ‘Malintzin’ or ‘Doña Marina’, is an important figure in the history of Mexico, especially for the pivotal role she played in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.
La Malinche is indeed a controversial figure in her country of birth, even today. For many, she is regarded as a traitor to her own people, as she served the Spanish conquistadors. The word malinchista, for example, is slang for ‘a traitor to one’s own people’. For others, however, La Malinche is perceived as a heroic individual, and they believe that her negative reputation is unfounded.
La Malinche’s Noble Roots
La Malinche is generally believed to have been born in 1505. According to Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a conquistador who took part in Hernán Cortés’s conquest of Mexico, La Malinche was of noble birth. In his memoirs, known as Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (‘The True History of the Conquest of New Spain’), Díaz wrote that:
“She (La Malinche) was born a ruler over a people and country,—for her parents had the dominion of a township called Painala, to which several other townships were subject, lying about twenty-four miles from the town of Guacasualco.”