In the early 1500s, Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors defeated the great Aztec Empire, built a new city for colonists from Spain and took control of vast lands stretching from today's southwestern US down through most of Central America.
But many people don't know that one of the reasons for the success of this conquest was the invaluable help of a beautiful woman, Princess Malinali, known today as La Malinche. She was a Náhuatl princess from the coast lands of Tabasco whose kingdom was at war with the Aztec Empire. Because of her knowledge of Maya and Náhuatl languages, and her rapid acquisition of Spanish, she came to act as an interpreter and advisor to Cortés. She also bore him a child.
La Malinche is described here as she often is in Mexico as the embodiment of a new culture, one in which the mixing of races, Spanish and Aztec, created a new world. This view is not shared by all Mexicans, however. For some La Malinche is the symbol of a great betrayal that led to the death of millions of her fellow indigenous people. No one disagrees, however, that La Malinche was an extraordinary woman, whose life is fundamental to understanding the history of ancient and modern Mexico.
Written by Francisco Serrano Illustrated by Pablo Serrano Translated by Susan Ouriou