La Malinche’s roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR


Alfredo Ramos Martinez; La Malinche (Young Girl from Yalala, Oaxaca); vs. 1940; oil, canvas; Framed: 1 3/4 x 52 1/4 x 42 1/2 in. (4.4 x 132.7 x 108cm) 50 x 40 3/8in. (127 x 102.6cm); Collection of the Phoenix Art Museum, museum purchase with funds provided by Friends of Mexican Art

Craig Smith; Albuquerque Museum


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Craig Smith; Albuquerque Museum

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Alfredo Ramos Martinez; La Malinche (Young Girl from Yalala, Oaxaca); vs. 1940; oil, canvas; Framed: 1 3/4 x 52 1/4 x 42 1/2 in. (4.4 x 132.7 x 108cm) 50 x 40 3/8in. (127 x 102.6cm); Collection of the Phoenix Art Museum, museum purchase with funds provided by Friends of Mexican Art

Craig Smith; Albuquerque Museum

A young indigenous woman known as La Malinche played a pivotal role in communication between the Spanish and indigenous populations of Mexico 500 years ago. The teenager had been offered to Hernán Cortés, and she translated the negotiations and the conflicts between him and the Aztec emperor Montezuma. She is remembered as a survivor and sometimes as a traitor for aiding the Spanish conquerors, but always as a woman of valued language skills.

La Malinche is the centerpiece of the festivals

It’s a windy day in the village of San Isidro de Sedillo, a cluster of adobe houses around a church in the mountains east of Albuquerque. Dozens of people don their beaded suit jackets adorned with the Virgin of Guadalupe. They wear tall hats with a fringe covering their eyes, preparing for the Matachines dance which represents the introduction of Catholicism to the indigenous populations. At the head of the procession is a young girl dressed in white with a veil.

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Jasmine Trujillo represents La Malinche.

Yasmin Khan for NPR


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Yasmin Khan for NPR

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Jasmine Trujillo represents La Malinche.

Yasmin Khan for NPR

“The easiest part is when you put one foot in front of the other. I missed a few steps, but I’m doing pretty well,” said nine-year-old Jasmine Trujillo, who has played six times at La Malinche in his village. succeeding his sister who has overtaken the role.

As in most villages in New Mexico, La Malinche here is a symbol of purity, the connection of the indigenous peoples with the Catholic faith brought by the Spaniards. But in other villages including in Mexico, she is represented as a traitor. Theodore Chavez is the main dancer of Matachines called Monarca.

“Here she just represents the goodness. She’s the goodness of the play and the goodness of the dance,” Chavez says.

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Teddy Sandoval (Mexican American, 1949–1995), La Traiciónde Malinche (Malinche’s Betrayal), 1993. Watercolor on treated canvas; 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.

Courtesy of Paul Polubinskas, Estate of Teddy Sandoval. Photo by Elon Schoenholz; Albuquerque Museum


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Courtesy of Paul Polubinskas, Estate of Teddy Sandoval. Photo by Elon Schoenholz; Albuquerque Museum

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Teddy Sandoval (Mexican American, 1949–1995), La Traiciónde Malinche (Malinche’s Betrayal), 1993. Watercolor on treated canvas; 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.

Courtesy of Paul Polubinskas, Estate of Teddy Sandoval. Photo by Elon Schoenholz; Albuquerque Museum

Exploring its complex heritage

La Malinche was a young indigenous woman given to the Spanish conquistador Cortés as a slave along with 18 other women. She was a linguist who facilitated negotiations between the Spanish and indigenous populations. His controversial legacy inspired a series of images that are now the focus of the art exhibition Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche at the Albuquerque Museum, where Josie Lopez is chief curator.

“Ultimately, she was an enslaved Indigenous woman. And she was forced into a situation that she had to negotiate,” Lopez explains. “La Malinche’s legacy is truly a compelling storytelling. And you’ll see all of these iterations of storytelling developed in the exhibit.”

The artwork was last in Denver. Lopez and other Chicana curators created the traveling exhibit to examine the symbolic significance of La Malinche and its relevance to women today.

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Mercedes Gertz (Mexican, b.1965), Guadinche, 2012. Digital image printed on polyester; 71 × 43 1/4 in.

©Mercedes Gertz; Albuquerque Museum


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©Mercedes Gertz; Albuquerque Museum

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Mercedes Gertz (Mexican, b.1965), Guadinche, 2012. Digital image printed on polyester; 71 × 43 1/4 in.

©Mercedes Gertz; Albuquerque Museum

“I think Malinche has also become an important part of how we think about the roles of women in Latino culture, and how women have had to take on these different identities, from traitor to survivor to icon, to really negotiate the worlds we have to live in and transition between in our lives,” she said.

Delilah Montoya, a Chicana artist with several pieces in the exhibit, says that although this young woman was enslaved, historical accounts show she helped bring two powerful nations together.

“We are talking about a teenager who has to take on this incredible and enormous responsibility. We don’t know how she felt about being the language of Cortés. We don’t know when she died. But what we we know is that she survived. . And with her, other people survived,” Montoya said. “We also know that the Native Americans, the First Nation, revered her. We know this because the way she’s portrayed in the codices, she’s portrayed as someone who’s just a little taller. She is always there. I think they understood how important she was. Two powerful worlds first came together in his mind.

Although La Malinche was venerated in some indigenous documents, Montoya points out that the Spanish may not have seen her in this light, even though she navigated in several languages.

“I mean, they didn’t even know for sure what she was translating. For all they know, she was saying something completely different than what they wanted her to say. … I mean , here it was a language, the Spanish language that no one had ever heard before. And she had to understand it. And there were other languages ​​that she understood,” she says. “She was this incredible person who was able to feel these other cultures.”

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Delilah Montoya, Codex #2 Delilah: Six Deer: A Journey from Mechica to Chicana, 1992–95. Amate paper painted on board, photographs and string; 18 x 60 in.

Special Collections Department, Stanford Libraries. © Dalila Montoya; Albuquerque Museum


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Special Collections Department, Stanford Libraries. © Dalila Montoya; Albuquerque Museum

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Delilah Montoya, Codex #2 Delilah: Six Deer: A Journey from Mechica to Chicana, 1992–95. Amate paper painted on board, photographs and string; 18 x 60 in.

Special Collections Department, Stanford Libraries. © Dalila Montoya; Albuquerque Museum

One of Montoya’s pieces in the exhibit is a codex, a large panel of wallpaper with scenes of the evolution of women throughout 500 years of Spanish occupation in Mexico and New Mexico. It includes women important to Chicano history such as the Virgin of Guadalupe and ends with a Chicana activist. Montoya says she was inspired by the women in her family who have always been active in their community, but historically the contributions of women have rarely been recorded. His codex aims to change that.

The exhibition includes a wide variety of works incorporating La Malinche, from photographs to traditional wooden altars.

Reflection on descendants in the same communities

Lopez says he also seeks to clarify the true nature of the New Mexico state, going beyond the idea that Anglo-Hispanic and Native communities have lived peacefully alongside each other for centuries. .

“We know it’s a mythology. It was a very violent story that brought together a lot of those cultures here in New Mexico, at the same time, where we’re trying through exhibits like this to do the job of acknowledgment of the violence that has occurred on the intersections of these cultures,” says Lopez. “We are also trying to pivot to a sense of healing and a sense of understanding of how there are intersections between our cultures natives and chicano.”

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Matachines dancers with Jasmine Trujillo portraying La Malinche.

Jasmine Khan


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Jasmine Khan

La Malinche's roles as linguist and traitor explored : NPR

Matachines dancers with Jasmine Trujillo portraying La Malinche.

Jasmine Khan

She says the inclusion of the Matachines dancers in the Albuquerque iteration of the exhibit is an example of these intersections.

“These rituals still exist today, in these two communities,” she said.

The interpretation of the dance and of La Malinche varies according to the communities. For Jasmine Trujillo, who has played La Malinche in San Isidro de Sedillo most of her life, her reasons for devoting herself to the role are rooted in her Catholic faith:

“Because I love Jesus so much and want to dance for him.”

Jasmine and other La Malinche successors evolve their complex roles in celebrations and in their communities.


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