Ana Consuelo Matiella

Artwork by Merlin Flower

Artwork by Ernest WIlliamson

La Malinche
Traitor, and Mother of Mexico
 
 
Look, who could argue that we Mexicans have problems?  I remember once when I lived in Tucson, there was a Jewish baker who burned his bakery down, clearly because he needed the insurance money.  It was front page news in the “Tucson Daily Star,” fullpage story, a picture of the bakery in flames, and one of the diminutive rabbi with a look of kindness mixed with grief.  The reporter covering the story interviewed the rabbi.  
 
The rabbi said, “Sam’s a good man – he just had problems.”
 
We had a good laugh, my Mexican friends and I.  If Sam had been a Mexican, we would’ve said, “He was a crook and we knew it all along.  He screwed himself because he’s a fool.” (Se lo va a llevar la chingada por pendejo.)
 
We self-deprecate.
 
And look what happened when Artu, my first husband burned his hands with boiling olive oil in Portugal.  I called the concierge of the condominium where we were staying and they whisked him off to the local emergency room.  They placed him first in line because he was a foreign visitor.  The moaning lady and the screaming baby had to wait and it was out of pure politeness and hospitality that they did this.  The doctor took good care of him – bandaged his hands and gave him cod liver oil cream and clean bandages to dress his wounds.  They drove us back to our condo and the next day the concierge delivered flowers and a toy for our two-year-old daughter. When I got back to the states, true to the form of a self-deprecating Mexican, I said to my brother, “In Mexico, they would have chopped off his hands.”
 
“No Sis,” he said, “in Mexico they would have arrested him, then chopped off his hands.”
 
You see how we self-deprecate? And it springs from our own self-loathing, born of original sin played out, not by Adam and Eve, but by Cortes and La Malinche.
 
They blame her for defiling Mexico from its inception because it was her alleged rape that gave birth to the nation.  There you have our creation story -- Mexico conceived by rape.  That’s where the expression, “Se chingó la patria,” –“The country is fucked,” comes from, and why they call her La Chingada – the raped one.  It is our original sin and where our shame, la vergüenza, comes from.  It is the foundation of the self-deprecating thing we Mexicans do. The root of “everything is going south.”  Octavio Paz wrote a whole book about it and it took me years to figure out what the old guy was saying.  I would have simply said that Mexicans suffer from low self-esteem, and he took us into The Labyrinth of Solitude.
 
The dark legacy of La Malinche is blamed for everything from the repulsion of self, to shame, to the rampant lack of respect exhibited towards women, to ethnic envidia. Ethnic envidia is practically a bona fide sociological term now.  Some guy by the name of Navarrete from Los Angeles, the second largest Mexican city in the world,  wrote an essay
on ethnic evindia and the Los Angeles Times, was only too happy to publish it.  After that,
the concept of ethnic envy took off like a Malcom Gladwell wildfire.  Now, everyone knows
that Mexicans suffer from a form of a collective self-betrayal.  And this has been attributed to the legacy of  La Malinche, the raped mother of Mexico.
 
I didn’t know who Malinche was until I was about seventeen years old and  witnessed an argument that my mother had with her best friend whom she called sister – hermana, and we called tía. These two loved each other and would do anything for each other, yet they were always in competition with one another.  They were jealous of each other’s bodies and compared each other’s children to each other’s detriment. They had an on-going but secret argument conducted through the help of their friends about who had a flatter stomach and better taste in clothes.
 
When the Mexican government nationalized the petroleum industry my mother, who loved America, was angry at the expulsion of U.S. corporations from Mexico.  My Tía Olga was in favor of keeping the resources in what she mistakenly perceived would be Mexico’s coffers.  The argument over-heated when my mother told her that it wasn’t the Mexican people who were going to benefit, but the crooks who engineered the take-over.  Take-over meant just that, she said.  They were going to take it over and put it in their pockets, buy more girdles for their wives and jewels for their mistresses.   My Tía Olga then called my
mother, a malinchista, a traitor, who would sell Mexico for a few pieces of gold like Judas, “like Malinche did for that one miserable house that Cortes built for her on Higueras Street
in Mexico City.”
 
My mother laughed and she said, “You’re right. I am a malinchista and proud of it.  As far as I’m concerned Malinche was a survivor who knew what to do to get herself out of a bad situation.  Where is the shame in that?  And the Spaniards? They did us a favor when they stopped the carnage.  And then came the Gringos who brought us toilets and running water and to them I say ‘thank you’ and to you I say – “Después de dios, los gringos -- the Gringos after God!’”
 
They didn’t speak to each other for at least a week. 
 
My mother’s tirade was my official introduction to La Malinche.  I was surprised to hear my mother give such an ardent defense of this woman whom I had never heard of.  It was after the fight with my Tía Olga that my mother told me about La Malinche.  The story we were told, she said, the one about La Malinche being raped and then turning into a traitor didn’t make sense.  If La Malinche was taken by force, she said, she sure had a funny way of showing it.  She gave me this version of the story…
 
La Malinche was an Nahua Indian girl who was sold into slavery to another tribe by her mother so her brother, upon their father’s death, could take over the village. When Cortes arrived, and make no mistake, he was drop-dead gorgeous, the Aztecs, poor suckers (pobres cabrones,) thought he was a god by the name of Quetzalcoatl.  Believing that Cortes was a savior god, they showered him with gifts of gold and about a dozen slave girls.
 
Malinche was among them. But  Cortes was no Quetzlcoatl; he was the mero mero chingón sent by the Spanish Empire.  He brought with him soldiers and priests to conquer land for Spain and souls for the church but somewhere along the line they ended up with rape and pillage, which by my mother’s account was not unusual in those days when the Europeans were conquering the world.  When Cortes first laid eyes on La Malinche, my mother said, it was love at first sight.  She was as beautiful as he was handsome and she spoke two languages Nahuatl and Maya.  
 
Cortes, not being stupid, (ningún pendejo) seized the day, and Mexico and all itstreasures along with it. One of Cortes’s countrymen, a priest who had been enslaved by the Indians and subsequently freed, spoke Maya and Spanish and between Malinche’s knowledge of Nahuatl and Maya, and Father Geronimo’s knowledge of Maya and Spanish, Cortes was able, with the additional help of diseases like small pox and syphilis, to conquer Mexico: the land for Spain and its souls for the Catholic church.
 
La Malinche was referred to as La Chingada – the raped one, but the rape part, according to my mother, did not add up. La Malinche had been betrayed by her family – sold to slavery by her own mother and then given away like an object to Cortes. Did he rape her?  “Think about this,” my mother said. “Was having sex with a woman against her will considered wrong by anyone’s standards anywhere in the world in 1521?  If you believe that, hija,  you know mierda about history.”
 
Even with my mother unpacking the Malinche myth, the issue still remains.  Do we as Mexicans accept malinchismo as a national characteristic?  I didn’t come to know the intellectual explanation of La Malinche until I read The Labrynth of Solitude in college and read Octavio Paz’s account of Malinche and Cortes and the destiny that their union brought to Mexico. Paz explains this succinctly by reminding us that if we want to insult a Spaniard, you call him, “Hijo de puta,”  son of a whore.  But if you want to insult a Mexican, you call him “Hijo de la chingada,” son of a raped woman.   
 
Somewhere in our tragic Mexican amalgamation, we believed those who said that we needed to be ashamed of ourselves because we were, los hijos de la chingada, the sons and daughters of rape and domination.
 
But what if it was a lie? What if Malinche, was not raped? What if she, ninguna pendeja, with her command of languages and with the help of Father Geronimo, willingly acted as Cortes’ interpreter and did what she thought was the right thing to do to survive?  
 
What if all she did was figure it out?