Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Yeah here it is, my first draft of my La Malinche paper.  Jane, I hope I have humored you enough.  Title is: The Enemy Within: The Transformations of La Malinche within the Twentieth Century Chicano Movement

The woman is known by three names.  Malintzin , Doña Marina, La Malinche.  Indigenous, Christian, Mexican.  She is the woman who helped Hernán Cortés in his mission to conquer Mexico.  She was a slave, a translator, a mistress and a mother.  However, these roles are not where the exploration can begin.  It must begin with her names and the significance of them all.  Malintzin – the native name only popularized in the late twentieth century by those seeking to redeem her from centuries of exploitation and damnation.  Doña Marina – the name awarded to her by Cortés upon baptism, the first indicator of the betrayal but also an acknowledgement of her indigenous nobility with the use of Doña.[1]  La Malinche – the most common name despite being synonymous with the image of the cultural betrayer.  All names are given, not chosen, but the plethora of names assigned to this figure is in direct contrast to the lack of her voice in the historical record.  Her words are spoken for her – by sixteenth century historians and twentieth century philosophers – she is never allowed to speak for herself despite her pivotal role as a translator.  In the same light, her names are also given to her.[2]  They signify the varied accounts of her historical presence and the views societies hold of her.  She is many things to many people, and this status is exemplified through her name. 
The examination of La Malinche’s assorted names broaches the various contexts of her portrayal in the near-half millennia since her first meeting with Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors.  La Malinche has been used by colonists, by revolutionaries, by civil rights activists and by feminists – among others – to accomplish goals which she historically had no involvement in.  She is a historical figure constantly plunged in and out of exile, hovering between the factual and the fictional by strings attached by those who lived after her.   La Malinche’s historical exile has influenced the Mexican national identity throughout centuries of upheaval. 
Historical exile depends on the use of a figure within the shared memory of a cultural group.  Edward Said connects nationalism and modern, physical exile to a binary of the us versus them.  “All nationalisms have their founding fathers, their basic, quasi-religious texts, their rhetoric of belonging, their historical and geographical landmarks, their official enemies and heroes.”[3]  La Malinche experiences historical exile because of her construction as an enemy on the inside, a them within the us reaching from pre-colonial history to the modern day.  She is purged from the national identity through her exile in order to absolve it.  For centuries after the conquest, and after her own death, La Malinche has been used to further the goals of several groups within Mexican culture.  From the colonial era, where she was used as a figurehead of the mestizo nation, through the Mexican revolution, where her image was defiled in order to remove imperial influence, La Malinche has been implemented by people. 
This action towards historical exile is problematized by the fact that the historical record does not allow La Malinche to speak for herself, thereby creating a archetypal figure out of the alleged actions of a woman without a voice.  This is at the root of historical exile - the idea that after La Malinche died, the very thought of her was so atrocious to her people that they spent centuries of historical and literary work in order to demonize her very memory, to create an enemy for a whole people.  This is a form of exile from which one can never return, can never justify oneself.  The social memory surrounding La Malinche depends on her inability to refute the accusations made against her character and actions.  Her historical context has been manipulated to serve other means, such as those of the Chicano Movement of the mid-twentieth century in the United States.  The movement, seeking civil rights for the Mexican-American population of the United States, used the historical presence of La Malinche in order to secure the separateness of its people within the dominant society.  An examination of La Malinche within history begins to unravel the actions of those who seek to place blame for the destruction of indigenous culture upon the shoulders of one historical character.
La Malinche enters the realm of historical reality through her role in the conquest of the indigenous peoples of present day Mexico.  She plays a distinct role as translator and companion to Hernán Cortés.  Spanish chroniclers of the conquest vary in their representations of her.  Francisco Gomara, a Spanish priest hired by Cortés to write about the conquest from his point of view, only briefly mentions La Malinche.  On the other side is Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a foot soldier under Cortés, published his own account of the conquest written in an attempt to challenge the parts of Gomara’s history which he did not agree with.[4]
The two histories spend different lengths on the presence of La Malinche in the conquest, but the most significant part is that they both note her as important to the mission.  Without these accounts, there would be little or no recorded presence of La Malinche.  Taking this a step further, without the Diaz accounts, written out of frustration with the official account by Gomara, there would be little known about La Malinche’s life before she encountered Cortés.
Gomara briefly sites La Malinche’s history in a chapter dedicated to her.  Here the text and analysis switches to La Malinche’s Christian name, Doña Marina.  Both Gomara and Diaz find it important to point out that she was baptized and therefore can only be refereed to as Doña Marina.[5]   According to Gomara’s account, which are an amalgamation of the testimonies of Cortés and the men who served under him, Doña Marina was born to wealthy parents “who were related to the lord of that country.”[6]  Gomara then writes that Doña Marina claims that she was “stolen by certain merchants during a war and sold in the market place of Xicalanco.”[7]  She was a slave in several areas of the Yucatan before she was given to Cortés.  Gomara spends no more than a few sentences recounting Doña Marina’s life story, but he significantly introduces this personal history by using the phrasing “Marina…answered.”[8]  Here, Gomara is setting up the background of Doña Marina as a story she tells herself in reply to Cortés’s questioning of her.  It certainly reads as if this is the true history of Doña Marina from her own words. 
In contrast, Bernal Diaz del Castillo weaves a story about Doña Marina’s life before the Spanish that spans many years and reads more like a biblical tale of tragedy and redemption than the simple summary Gomara supplies.  Diaz begins by establishing his own feelings towards Doña Marina: she was “one very excellent woman,”[9] “good looking and intelligent and without embarrassment.”[10]  For both historians, Doña Marina’s presence is valuable enough to be noted in the historical record.  Diaz, however, is going as far as to comment on her personal attributes, a step which signifies a deeper respect for her role in the conquest than Gomara intends. 
Diaz then presents her story without associating it with her own words.  He says: “I wish to give some account of Doña Marina…It happened in this way.”[11]  Diaz’s history has Doña Marina being raised by parents who were also caciques – spiritual leaders – of Paynala, a town within the Aztec empire.  Upon her father’s death, Doña Marina’s mother remarried and has a son with her new husband.  “Her father and mother had a great affection for this one and it was agreed between them that he should succeed their honours when their days were done.”[12]  With this plan in mind, Marina’s parents gave her to peoples living in Xicalango and then claimed that she had died as to not bring about any suspicion.  Doña Marina was then given to people in Tabasco, a city in the Yucutan inhabited by the Maya people.  With this movement, she was able to speak at least two languages before she was given to Cortés as a slave.  It is important to note that Diaz never refers to Doña Marina as a slave, but rather she is a person that is constantly being “given.”[13] 
Diaz goes on to further detail Doña Marina’s life under Cortés: After Tenochitlan, the Aztec capital, was conquered, Cortés went to Honduras to quell an apprising in the area.  Diaz and Doña Marina accompanied him, and they passed through Coatzacoalcos, the major town near Marina’s birthplace.  Here, her mother and half-brother were jointly ruling as chiefs.  The expedition sent for them, and Diaz writes that “these relations [relatives] were in great fear of Doña Marina, for they thought that she had sent for them to put them to death, and they were weeping.”[14]  Diaz uses this event to establish his statement that “Doña Marina was a person of the great importance and was obeyed without question by the Indians throughout New Spain.”[15]  It is a potent image to have indigenous chiefs cowering in the presence of a woman that was once a slave and was now among the most trusted of Cortés’s group.  Diaz is giving Doña Marina a powerful position within the conquest which stretches into the time afterwards as well. 
Diaz closes his account of Doña Marina by showing a righteous and forgiving side of her – she instantly forgives her mother and half-brother for her life in bondage.  She gives them gifts of jewels and calms not only their fears but the fears of the readers as well.  She
Told them that God had been very gracious to her in freeing her from the worship of idols and making her a Christian, and letting her bear a son to her lord and master Cortés and in marrying her to such a gentleman as Juan Jaramillo, who was now her husband.  That she would rather serve her husband and Cortés than anything else in the world, and would not exchange her place to be Cacica of all the provinces in New Spain.[16]

Diaz’s writing claims that these are words she indeed said to her family members, and this gives rise to the idea that Doña Marina – La Malinche – was actively denying her indigenous roots and taking the side of the Spanish.  Diaz depicts Doña Marina as being grateful for her life of slavery because it resulted in a relationship with the Spanish and with the Christian god.  This story is one which establishes her role as the betrayer of her people – why else would she so willingly become a Christian, bear a child for Cortés, and marry a Spaniard? 
            It is very important to note the disparities between the histories given by Gomara and by Diaz in relation to Doña Marina.  Both of these histories must be questioned in relation to their goals and the affect they would have on later generations.  Diaz has many positive things to say about Marina that in more recent history have been used to demonize her and other women.  However, the image of Doña Marina that Diaz presents is one which is only positive for the Spanish side of the conquest.  She willingly – at least as Diaz describes it – accepts Christianity and a Spanish lifestyle.  Diaz is careful not to call her a slave but Gomara does imply her initial status as one: He writes that Cortés “promised her more than her liberty is she would establish friendship between him and the men of her country.”[17] Her ability to make personal choices is not questioned by the historians of the sixteenth century, but it may be inferred that she accepted Cortés’s proposal in Gomara’s account. 
Both historians, however, are writing from a European point of view and do not go on to mention the degree of freedom Doña Marina was granted when she agreed to be Cortés’s translator.  The issue of La Malinche’s agency cannot be decided one way or another through the brief accounts of her actual life in the histories and is still vital to the discussion of La Malinche in the twentieth century movements which appropriated her image. 
One of the earlier texts used to reaffirm the position of La Malinche in the Chicano movement of the second half of the twentieth century was Octavio Paz’s essay, “Los Hijos de La Malinche” or “The Sons of La Malinche.”  In this work, Paz seeks to uncover and name the reasons for Mexico’s national identity of being dually submissive and aggressive.  His work is philosophical and interpretive, attempting to identify what he views as a problem for the Mexican people which can stand to be corrected.[18]  His work finds that the people of Mexico “struggle with imaginary entities, with vestiges of the past or self-engendered phantasms[19]  Paz looks back into the history of Mexico, most importantly the conquest, in order to understand the present situation of the Mexican people.  His work ties the social consciousness and reality to characters of indigenous and Spanish backgrounds.  He writes: “History helps us to understand certain traits of our characters, provided we are capable of isolating and defining them beforehand.”[20]  The expansion into explaining the Mexican subordinate outlook then spans into the historical images that Mexico must contend with: those of the Conquest and the colonial era that followed.
Paz deconstructs the internal view of Mexicans as ‘los hijos de la chingada’ or ‘the sons of the fucked one’ via the conquest.  La Malinche is a seminal figure in Mexican history and culture because of her role as ‘la chingada’ or ‘the fucked one.’  Paz claims: “The Chingada is the mother who has suffered – metaphorically or actually – the corrosive and defaming action implicit in the verb that gives her her name.”[21]  By connecting La Malinche to the act implied by chingada and then resting her entire self-worth on the subject, Paz disconnects La Malinche first from her historical reality and thereby from her agency.  Most importantly, chingada is feminine and clearly connects to the role of the woman in society in general.  Paz writes:
The person who suffers this action is passive, inert and open, in contrast to the active, aggressive and closed person who inflicts it. The chingón is the macho, the male; he rips open the chingada, the female, who is pure passivity, defenseless against the exterior world. The relationship between them is violent, and it is determined by the cynical power of the first and the impotence of the second.[22]

Juxtaposing the role of chingada as woman and the role of chingón as man creates a view of the conquest in which La Malinche is stripped of her agency in her submission to the European conqueror.  By casting La Malinche in this light, the historical view of her becomes that of a woman without agency or choice in her actions.  It seems to deny the actual historical description of La Malinche, which must also be questioned as previously demonstrated.  Paz, however, is setting up La Malinche to be a mythical figure in terms of her lack of agency thus allowing her to image to be at the center of blame for the conquest of Mexico. 
            Paz also sets up the word chingada to be forbidden and prohibited, thus making it somehow shameful that La Malinche is referred to as lacking agency but more shameful that the blood-line of the mestizo nation reportedly traces back to her act of submission.  There is a connection between la chingada and the Mexican people, but there is a distinct difference between being los hijos de la chingada and la chingada.  While los hjios feel the shame of the act performed upon the ancestry and internalize this shame, it is left for la chingada to carry the blame of the act of violation which is performed upon her.  Thereby, Mexico feels submissive and shamed by the act, but they are not still open for conquest in Paz’s time.  They have learned from the wrongs committed upon la chingada, but they are los hijos and thereby have the distance to reject the internalization of la chingada.    
In the larger view of Mexican women in the Chicano movement, Paz’s idea of chingada and the lack of agency is placed upon all women.  In the introduction to this essay, Paz questions the reality of woman as an ‘other’:
Woman is another being who lives apart and is therefore an enigmatic figure…She attracts and repels like men of an alien race or nationality…Woman is a living symbol of the strangeness of the universe and its radical heterogeneity.  As such, does she bide life within herself, or death?  What does she think?  Or does she think?  Does she truly have feelings?  Is she the same as we are?  Sadism begins as a revenge against feminine hermeticism or as a desperate attempt to obtain a response from a body we fear is insensible.[23] 

The path of questioning the overall ability of women to reason and then stripping La Malinche of her own reason in the conquest is clearly delineated in Paz’s work.  He is questioning women’s ability to be human – if humanity is established through the possession of reason, he is wondering if women have the ability to think at all.  His over-arching “we” fears that women are insensible.  This opinion of women, Paz is trying to explain to the reader, finds its roots in the dichotomy between Hernán Cortés and La Malinche and the role of la chingada.  Paz reaffirms this assertion: “In effect, every woman — even when she gives herself willingly —is torn open by the man, is the Chingada.”[24]  Claiming all women to be la chingada sets them up to all be La Malinche.  There is a fear of betrayal which is reaffirmed by the Judeo-Christian presence of Eve, who performed the ultimate betrayal upon all of humanity.  La Malinche in turn becomes the Mexican Eve, betraying her people to the Spanish conquistadors via her voice and her body, as a translator and as the mistress of Cortés. 
However, the act of betrayal requires the presence of agency, which Paz is constantly denying to la chingada and therefore all women.  La Chingada lacks any form of action: “Her passivity is abject: she does not resist violence, but is an inert heap of bones, blood and dust. Her taint is constitutional and resides…in her sex. This passivity, open to the outside world, causes her to lose her identity…She loses her name; she is no one; she disappears into nothingness; she is Nothingness. And yet she is the cruel incarnation of the feminine condition.”[25]  In this dual vision of la chingada as nothing and as the “incarnation of the feminine condition,” a clear hypocrisy begins to emerge about the view of La Malinche in terms of agency.  The phrasing of “cruel incarnation of the feminine condition” implies presence of the female and is in clear contrast to the nothingness of la chingada.  By assigning any form of condition, Paz gives life to la chingada and thus negates his assertion of her supposed lack of being.  Nonetheless, Paz’s image of submissive betrayal articulates the twentieth century national view of La Malinche as the Mexican Eve.  The Chicano Movement was influenced by the view he is communicating even if every single member of the movement did not read his essay – Paz is most successful in his ability to capture the conscience of the Mexican people in writing.  This conscience made itself present even in the Chicano Movement centered in the United States.
The Chicano Movement in the United States cannot be separated from the post-revolutionary feelings Octavio Paz is writing about in “Los Hijos de La Malinche.”  Though the movement came into fruition in the 1960s, nearly a decade after Paz published his completed essays, the fervor of the movement stood alongside Paz’s examination of Mexican identity.  The Chicano Movement, inspired dually by the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the United Farm Workers organized by Cesar Chavez, sought to confront the racial and class differences Mexican-Americans faced in the Anglo-dominated United States.[26]  The movement, like the civil rights movements which came before and after it, targeted institutionalized racism and inequality through many platforms including legislation, community outreach, and scholarly work.  The movement took on a radical slant after the assimilation attempts of the 1950s.  In his Chicano Manifesto, Armando Rendon describes his discovery of the Chicano community and its effect in bringing him back to his own race: “I owe my life to my Chicano people. They rescued me from the Anglo kiss of death, the monolingual, monocultural, and colorless gringo society. I no longer face a dilemma of identity or direction. That identity and direction have been charted for me by the Chicano.”[27]  The supplicating Mexican-Americans of the post-World War II decade were overrun by radicals, often young people if not students, in an effort to achieve civil rights goals. 
The power of the movement and its ties to Mexico can be accounted for by the post-war reality of the Mexican-American community.  The United States Census in 1960 counted approximately 3,842,000 Mexican-Americans living in the country, the majority of which resided in the Southwest.[28]  This was a fifty-one percent increase from the previous census in 1950.[29]  At the same time, over eighty-five percent of Mexican-Americans were second-generation, native born to native born parents, meaning that the majority of population increase can be attributed to births and not immigration.[30]  The Mexican-American community, however, was also replenished by nearly 300,000 legal immigrants during the 1950s and an unknown (but undoubtedly higher) number of illegal immigrants.[31]  This change in the composition of the Mexican-American population led to a community which was significantly young – the median age of Mexican-Americans being nineteen compared to twenty-eight in the Anglo-community of the Southwest.[32]  This community was also inextricably tied to its Mexican heritage through segregated communities which relied upon tradition and a common language, Spanish.[33]
These two factors allowed for the Chicano Movement to grow rapidly amongst the Mexican-American population.  One of the distinctions made in the early days of the movement between those with radical involvement was a change in name – radical, academic-minded activists chose the name Chicano for the movement while the conservative sect of the population continued to rely on the term ‘Mexican-American.’[34]  Rendon describes this delineation of Chicano as “the one unique word of the Mexican American people. Its derivation is strictly internal; it owes nothing to the Anglo penchant for categorizing ethnic groups.”[35]  With this usage, the Chicano Movement made a conscious choice to separate itself drastically from the dominant culture of the United States, a step taken in several civil rights movements after assimilation attempts did not spur on instant change.  Carlos Munoz, Jr. defines the movement as “a quest for a new identity and for political power.”[36]
Simply the focus on the use of the word “Chicano” reveals the disparity in the movement on the issue of women’s rights.  Like many civil rights movements of the 1960s, the Chicano Movement sought to focus on race and class issues without reflecting on the gender problems within the community.  The “basis for unity would be their pride in Mexican ethnicity and culture,”[37] thereby depending on a culture that was historically misogynistic.  When women in the movement, Chicanas, attempted to seek leadership roles, they were often rejected by the men leading the movement and “were inevitably relegated to subordinate positions, such as secretaries, cooks, and janitors.”[38]  Sexual harassment was also a common presence within the movement.[39]  Women reacted to these subservient roles and harassment by pushing for a greater voice within the movement.  Male leaders confronted this threat by associating women who sought to bring feminism into the movement with La Malinche, Paz’s passive betrayer. 
Outspoken feminist thought in the Chicano Movement originated from one of the more radical branches in the movement, the Brown Berets.  The Berets moved away from a focus on the academic aspect of the Chicano movement and focused on the barrio in which police brutality and drug use were their main concerns, along with a strong awareness of the youth population.[40]  An anonymous work published from a member of the Orange County Brown Berets in 1971 illustrated the desire of women to participate in the movement: “In order to have a successful Revolution you must have full involvement from both the Chicanos and Chicanas.”[41]  The female Brown Beret member sought to address injustices recently done to women in the Brown Beret division of the movement perpetuated by the “deep-macho hang-ups”[42] of the culture.  The article lays out the stereotypes that must immediately be abolished in order to completely involve women in the movement and thereby bring about the most radical change.  The author presents the following stereotypes: “1.  ‘A woman is only good for making love to.’  2.  ‘All women should do is stay home, was dishes, cook and clean the house.’  3.  ‘Women don’t rap as good as men; they aren’t as heavy regarding the movement, and they don’t command the respect of their peers.’  4.  ‘Women shouldn’t be allowed to do community work; the work should be done by men.’”[43]  These stereotypes fall in line with those which many feminist groups in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s were trying to confront: The role of women as simply sexual and domestic, without political or social power. 
The article clearly demonstrates the disparity between Chicanas and Chicanos in a movement which sought civil rights for an entire ethnic group but continued to delegate women to second-class status.  The stereotypes involved here were not exclusive to the late-twentieth century United States – they found footing in historical and cultural precedents dating back even further than the passive role Octavio Paz assigns to La Malinche, la chingada.  They exemplify the woman Octavio Paz returns to time and time again – questionably unthinking, passive, not fit to step outside of submissive roles because of a lack of reason or even humanity.  They mirror la chingada in the woman’s ability to only be a sexual object.  The role is subservient but at the same time is used to hold up the movement, much like Paz’s chingada has a role in explaining what has gone wrong in the Mexican identity. 
The anonymous Brown Beret author concludes that “We don’t blame Chicanos for feeling that women are inferior.  The Chicano family structure teaches the men to be leaders while the women are taught how to do household chores and to think in terms of the day when they will be married.”[44]  There is an understanding that this view of women is learned, is tied to Paz’s views of the national identity’s dependence on the relationship between superior and inferior peoples.  The author recognizes the traditions being demonstrated by the Chicano Movement’s treatment of women but also demands a change, if not a completely radical one.  She still advocates that “Chicanas are needed to stand by their men,” [45] not deviating from the heteronormativity expected in Mexican culture.  Most significantly, the author makes a clear point of removing these opinions from the concurrent women’s liberation movement: “That’s not ours – that’s a white thing.”[46]  This closing point addresses the fear and distaste that all members of the Chicano Movement, Chicanas included, felt for associations with Anglo institutions and movements.  The specter of La Malinche hung over those who gravitated towards the power of Anglo movements and it would take Chicanas who willingly self-identified as feminists to free her image from its centuries-long state of demonization. 
The framing of feminism outside of the white women’s liberation movement is vital to understanding the fear and rebirth of La Malinche in the late twentieth century.  La Malinche was prominent in the Chicano Movement because of her role in the conquest of Mexico as both Cortés’ translator and mistress – a dual betrayal of indigenous peoples.  Centuries of historical writing and philosophical thought was dedicating to portraying her as the sole reason for the collapse of the Aztec empire. 
It was the appropriation of this image in support of the macho goals of the Chicano movement that sparked the reaction of the Chicana feminists.  In 1977, Martha Cotera wrote “Encouraged by the Octavio Paz mentality, men have used her [La Malinche] as a club for us, to keep us down.”[47]  This action is associated with La Malinche because women who stepped outside of the boundaries delineated by the men in power were labeled as malinchistas.  Paz described the use of malinchista as a general derogatory term for Mexicans who allowed western culture to penetrate into their society: The “success of the contemptuous adjective malinchista recently put into circulation by the newspapers to denounce all those who have been corrupted by foreign influences. The malinchistas are those who want Mexico to open itself to the outside world: the true sons of La Malinche, who is the Chingada in person.”[48]  This use of malinchista was problematic for the Chicano Movement because their culture was already open to foreign influence – they were, for the most part, United States citizens.  Malinchista was therefore redefined for those who stepped outside of the goals of the movement – and those who did so were for the most part women.  The word malinchista is also distinctly feminine, tying all betrayal to the female form whether said betrayal is committed by men or women: “To be a traitor is by implication to become female, while to be female is to be inherently a potential traitor.”[49]
There were several definitions for what stepping outside of the goals of the movement entailed.  Cherrie Moraga defines one option as that for “the woman who defies her role as subservient to her husband, father, brother, or son by taking control of her sexual destiny.”[50]  This included rejection of heteronormativity either through expression of non-normative sexual desires or the choice not to have children.  Either stepped outside of the goals of the Chicano movement – lesbians were viewed as inferior because they could no longer even go as far as to support ‘their’ men – the Chicano men were not in control of the woman, it was obvious that the white men were.[51]  Both were connected to Malintzin despite the historical record demonstrating that she engaged in sexual relations with men and bore at least one child. 
An even broader application of malinchista was afforded to women who were involved with Anglo-men or participated in Anglo-institutions and movements, especially that of women’s liberation.[52]  The second-wave feminist movement in the United States was controlled by middle-class white women, there is no doubt in that correlation.  This led Chicana feminists to shy away from claiming feminism for themselves and gave Chicano men the opportunity to demonize women who related to feminist ideologies.  Cotera explains: “We didn’t say that we were feminists.  It was the men who said that.  They said, ‘Aha!  Feminista!’ and that was a good reason for not listening to some of the most active women in the community.  When the men, and even some of the women, in the movement spoke of liberation, you found that they literally meant liberation for men, and they couldn’t care peanuts about you or your little girls or your little sisters, or your own mother.”[53]  It was the rejection of adding the liberation of women to the goals of the Chicano Movement which caused feminists within the movement to walk away and build their own branches which incorporated gender into the fight for civil rights.  The tag of malinchista could no longer be accepted as the final word when feminist issues were brought up in Chicano meetings and protests. 
Feminists sought to redefine their own roles as well as the role of La Malinche, to bring her out of historical exile and to exalt her from the centuries of blame which had been placed upon her.  Cypess notes that “the revisionist works of…Chicana writers are significant because they react to the negative presentations of La Malinche as a direct defamation of themselves.”[54]  The Chicano Movement chose to incorporate La Malinche in a negative light.  Instead of subverting their goals to those of the Chicano leaders, Chicana feminists sought to revise the role of La Malinche within the collective memory of the Chicano/a people.  Cypess quotes Adelaida Del Castillo: “‘Any denigrations made against her indirectly defame the character of the Mexicana/Chicana female.  If there is shame for her, there is shame for us; we suffer the effects of these implications.’”[55]  There would no longer be the acceptance of shame for stepping outside of the patriarchal society among the Chicanas, and the transformation would come about through the reworking of the character of La Malinche.  Chicana feminists sought to grant La Malinche the agency which Octavio Paz denied.  They questioned the accountability directed to Malintzin for the destruction of an entire empire, and they even questioned the reality of the empire in itself.
Octavio Paz described La Malinche as la chingada, a figure without any agency and barely even any humanity.  Chicana feminists reacting to this perpetuated view within the American Chicano Movement sought to not only grant La Malinche her humanity but also her agency.  They aspired to rework the history and interpretation of La Malinche through various platforms – literature, poetry, philosophical manifestos, and academic essays.  They relied on what was supplied by the historians – Gomara and Diaz – and on what society accepted within the realm of social memory.  The shame which Adelaida Del Castillo describes above would be removed through exploration and revision, and La Malinche would no longer be relegated to the realm of historical exile.  She would join the ranks of feminist heroes for the modern era, taking history and all of its implications out of the hands of men who spent centuries writing and reading history which for the most part only sought to benefit their own gendered norms for society. 
The passivity of La Malinche and other women throughout history was challenged by Chicana revisions of popular histories.  ‘Great Man’ histories were challenged by ‘Great Woman’ retellings.[56]  The process of revising history in order to include accomplished women who were ignored by Chicano historians “dispels damaging and distorting images of Chicanas”[57] and “provides Chicana students with positive role models.”[58]  Alma Garcia’s exploration of the entrance of Chicana women into history does find some things problematic, however.  She says:  “Such accounts remain at a basically descriptive level, lacing a theoretical framework with which to analyze the specific experience of such women.  More importantly, however, this approach fails to analyze the lives of the majority of Mexican women or Chicanas who were the contemporaries of such individuals.”[59]  This analysis of some Chicana histories points out that the interpretation of individual women is not enough; Uncovering the true history of La Malinche, which is both difficult and most likely impossible given the lack of direct account from her, will not obliterate the need for Chicana feminism.  There is an aspect to this process that craves analysis and social application, which demands redemption from the subordinate position Paz and many others have placed Malinche in.  Straight facts and history textbooks are not enough to subvert misogynistic culture.  As Martha Cotera argued, “What we do with our identity is also our own decision, not the decision of men, the universities, ‘herstories’, ‘his-stories’, or anyone else.  That goes for Malinche and for us today!”[60]  New identities needed to be formed outside of academic circles, identities which could be applied to all aspects of the community, not just the members who could access higher education. 
Artistic interpretation appears to have been the best option for Chicana feminists when it came time to reframe La Malinche.  The lack of La Malinche’s voice in history created a void which Chicanas rushed to fill in attempts to provide her with agency and reaffirm their own condition.  In an article entitled “Yo Soy La Malinche,” Mary Louis Pratt examines the various uses of La Malinche and her voice by Chicana feminist artists in the 1970s and 1980s.  One of the poems she examines, “Trilogy” by Naomi Quinonez, works to subvert the traditional reasoning for La Malinche’s betrayal through examination of feminine archetypes and patriarchal societies.  Quinonez begins her poem by comparing three mythical female figures who are all viewed as betrayers: “Eve…Malinche…Helen[of Troy]/Unpredictable hurricanes/sources of destructive power.”[61]  The juxtaposition of these three women, each often blamed for the destruction of their people – though these people are often referred to through androcentric language such as ‘mankind’ – places La Malinche among familiar beings and creates an instant bond with commonplace views of women as betrayers.  Quinonez is not creating this paradigm, she is defining it in order to explore the centuries of blame La Malinche has faced. 
The stanza of the poem Pratt includes which focuses on La Malinche seeks to understand La Malinche’s choices and exalt her from carrying the responsibility for the conquest.  “The atrocity of Malinche’s sin/as if she had no father/who ingrained in her/absolute obedience/to men/as if he had not given her/to Cortez as a gift./She, obeying men/obeyed her father’s wish/to be given/obeyed Cortez/and gave him Mexico.”[62]  Here Quinonez manipulates the role of men and women in traditional indigenous society in order to make a conclusion about the reasons for La Malinche’s betrayal.  However, she also ignores the history provided by Gomara and Diaz in order to connect La Malinche’s tragic early years to a male figure.  Malinche “obeyed her father’s wish”[63] to be given to Cortés while Diaz has demonstrated that Malinche was sold into slavery by her mother and stepfather and given to Cortés by those who were not her actual family members.  This manipulation of what has been considered historical fact demonstrates the pliability of the La Malinche archetype within her historical exile.  While for centuries men used the story to place blame for the destruction of indigenous culture upon one woman, Quinonez turns the tables and places blame on the patriarchy – something Chicana feminists heavily identified as a cause of problems within the Chicano movement.  La Malinche had no choice but to help Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, Quinonez’s poem argues, because she had no choice in her birth as a woman.  She was taught to obey the wishes of men, and so she gave Cortés what he wished for – Mexico.  The analysis of La Malinche through poetry seeks to reestablish not only her agency but also her humanity after centuries of exile, especially after the way she was portrayed in Paz’s essay.  Quinonez is seeking to displace blame by taking on the patriarchal societies which expect women to obey men and then vilify these same women when they succeed in this task. 
In contrast to Quinonez, Carmen Tafolla’s 1978 attempts to raise La Malinche without necessarily shifting the cause of the betrayal away from her.  Pratt recognizes that poems such as Tafolla’s “La Malinche,” seek “re-cognition of Malintzin’s decisive role in determining the course of the Spanish invasion.”[64]  This avenue for explanation aims to question why La Malinche’s powerful part in the conquest has been so threatening to her historical successors, enough that she was specifically singled out for vilification and thereby historical exile.  Tafolla assigns La Malinche agency in the following lines: “And you came/My dear Hernán Cortés/to share your ‘civilization’ – to/play god/…….and I began to dream…/I saw/and I acted![65]  The poem endeavors to grant La Malinche agency and even more – power.  She takes control of the situation she is put in because she believes that the conquest could help her and her people: “I saw our world/And I saw yours/And I saw – /another.”[66]  There is a hint of the formation of the mestizo nation which Mexico became, a mix of indigenous and Spanish ancestry which contributes so heavily to Octavio Paz’s definition of Mexican national identity.
Tafolla aims to move away from the view of Mexico’s birth as coming from a violent act, from the people of Mexico being los hijos de la chingada.  “They could not imagine me dealing on a level with you –/so they said I was raped, used,/chingada.”[67]  Tafolla is challenging Paz and the Chicano mentality that La Malinche was at once a helpless victim and an evil betrayer.  These conflicting views obscure both her agency and her power.  Why was it that La Malinche was the one singled out for historical exile when thousands of other indigenous peoples, mostly men in the role of warriors, assisted Cortés in overthrowing the so-called Aztec empire?[68]  It is very possible that she was just a woman who used the power she was granted, power she had been denied initially when she was sold into slavery, in order to better herself and perhaps her people.  The historical record does not represent her goals – it barely represents her voice.  The policing of female power through reference to la malinchista in the Chicano movement depicts a fear of female power being used to fulfill female-centered goals.  The Chicana writers of the 1970s sought to define those goals for themselves through the use of La Malinche.  If she could be turned into a positive character, they could not be degraded for seeking more power within their communities and within the United States.
Why is La Malinche so captivating in her relation to the conquest and her association with Spanish conquistadors?  Mary Louis Pratt points out that “exploration, imperial invasion, and plunder are endeavors overwhelmingly associated with men.”[69]  La Malinche’s historical presence as an aid to the conquest of a vast society is intriguing because of her status as a female.  Noble or not, she stepped outside of the boundaries her society allocated to women.  Whether or not she had the ability to make choices for herself during her life is still in question, but the record presents her as an active individual and that is the ultimate outcome.  It is rare to see the men who helped Cortés’ conquest being question and singled out as betrayers of their people.  Therefore, some sort of conclusion can be made about the association between La Malinche’s power and her womanhood.  There is something threatening about her, or frightening, or simply confusing.  Centuries have been spent trying to vilify or justify her decisions – she was a slave, she must have been forced, she wanted revenge, she sought to bring about a better world than the one she witnessed – but one conclusive answer has never been reached and may never be reached.  This is the source of La Malinche’s historical exile.  She is an enigma, not in the ways Octavio Paz describes women, but in the way that there is no solid historical proof of anything about her, and there may never be.  Despite spending her life speaking and interpreting the words of others, La Malinche’s words about herself were never recorded in a undoubtedly truthful way.  She has no voice, and there is irony in that.  “Her very presence contradicts, for example, canonical ideologies of conquest and resistance as masculine heroic enterprises, and reductive visions of the conquest as a straightforward relation between victimizers and victims.”[70]

Appendix 1
La Malinche by Carmen Tafolla[71]
Yo soy la Malinche.

My people called Malintzin Tenepal
The Spaniards called me Doña Marina

I came to be known as Malinche
    and Malinche came to mean traitor.

They called me – chingada
(Ha – Chingada!  Screwed!)

Of noble ancestry, for whatever that means, I was sold into slavery
by MY ROYAL FAMILY – so that my brother could get my

…And then the omens began – a god, a new civilization, the
downfall of our empire.
     And you came.
            My dear Hernán Cortés, to share your “civilization” – to
            play god,
…….and I began to dream
I saw
    and I acted!
I saw our world
     And I saw yours
           And I saw –
And yes – I helped you – against Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin

I became Interpreter, Advisor, and lover.
     They could not imagine me dealing on a level with you –
           so they said I was raped, used

But I saw our world
     and your world
            and another.

No one else could see!
            Beyond one world, none existed.
      And you yourself cried the night
      the city burned,
            and burned at your orders.
The most beautiful city on earth
                in flames.
You cried broken tears the night you saw your destruction.

My homeland ached within me
               (but I saw another!)

Another world –
a world yet to be born.
And our child war born…
            And I was immortalized Chingada!

Years later, you took away my child (my sweet mestizo new world
            to raise him in your world.
            You still didn’t see.
                 You still didn’t see.
And history would call me

But Chingada I was not.
            Not tricked, not screwed, not traitor.
For I was not traitor to myself –
            I saw a dream
               and I reached it.
                      Another world…….
                           la raza.
                                    la raaaaaaaaa-zaaaaa…….

Works Cited
Anonymous. “The Adelitas’ Role in El Movimeinto.” In Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. Edited by Alma M. Garcia., 118-119. New York: Routeledge, 1997.

Cotera, Martha P. The Chicana Feminist. Austin, TX: Information Systems Development, 1977.

Cypess, Sandra Messinger. La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth. Austin: University of Austin Press, 1991.

Del Castillo, Adelaida R. “Malintzin Tenepal: A Preliminary Look into a New Perspective.” In Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. Edited by Alma M. Garcia., 122-126. New York: Routeledge, 1997.

Diaz del Castillo, Bernal. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico 1517-1521. Edited by Genaro Garcia. Translated by A.P. Maudslay. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1956.

Garcia, Alma M. “Studying Chicanas: Bringing Women into the Frame of Chicano Studies.” In Chicana voices : intersections of class, race, and gender. Edited by Teresa Córdova., 19-29. Alburquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.

Gomara, Francisco Lopez. The Life of the Conqueror by His Secretary: 1511-1564. Edited and translated by Lesley Byrd Simpson. Berkley: University of California Press, 1964.

Gonzales, Manuel G. Mexicanos: The History of Mexicans in the United States. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Moraga, Cherrie L. Loving in the War Years. 2nd ed. 1983. Reprint, Cambrdige: South End Press, 2000.

Munoz, Carlos, Jr. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. 2nd ed. 1989. Reprint, New York: Verso, 2007.

Paz, Octavio. “The Sons of La Malinche.” In The Labyrinthe of Solitude 2nd ed., translated by Lysander Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips Belash, 65-88. 1961. Reprint, New York: Grove Press, Inc, 1985.

Pratt, Mary Louise. “’Yo Soy La Malinche’: Chicana Writers and the Poetics of Ethnonationalism.” Callaloo 16, no. 4 (Fall 1993): 859-873. Accessed February 26, 2011.‌stable/‌2932214.

Rendon, Armando B. Chicano Manifesto: The history and aspirations of the second largest minority in America. Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1971.

Said, Edward W. "Reflections on Exile." In Reflections on exile and other essays, 137-147.    Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

[1] Adelaida R. Del Castillo, "Malintzin Tenepal: A Preliminary Look into a New Perspective," in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, ed. Alma M. Garcia (New York: Routeledge, 1997) 123. 
[2] The discussion of naming is vital to the examination of this woman’s role in history and social memory.  This paper will use the name La Malinche most frequently.  Although it is the name that is most degrading, being irrevocably tied to the process of cultural betrayal, it is the most recognizable.  The repetition of La Malinche seeks to constantly tie the woman to the name and to the process she is associated with and used within.  The names Doña Marina and Malintzin will be used to when the referential texts being quoted name her as such.  They will also be used when these texts are heavily analyzed.   

[3]  Edward W. Said, "Reflections on Exile," in Reflections on exile and other essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 140. 
[4] Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico 1517-1521, ed. Genaro Garcia, trans. A.P. Maudslay (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1956),
[5] Francisco Lopez Gomara, The Life of the Conqueror by His Secretary: 1511-1564, ed. and trans. Lesley Byrd Simpson (Berkley: University of California Press, 1964), 57.  Her baptism is also mentioned by Bernal Diaz del Castillo on page 63. 
[6] Ibid. 
[7] Ibid. 
[8] Ibid., 56. 
[9] Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and the Conquest, 62. 
[10] Ibid., 64. 
[11] Ibid., 66. 
[12] Ibid., 66. 
[13] Ibid., 64.
[14] Ibid., 67.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 68. 
[17] Gomara, The Life of the Conqueror, 56. 
[18] Paz’s work is incredibly philosophical and heavily influenced by historical events that are not all clear at the time.  The difficulty I had in trying to understand his work also made it very clear to me that some of his intentions may have been misconstrued by following generations as well.  His heavy-handed discussion of La Malinche seems to pull his work away from his goal of improving the Mexican condition.  Those who find his work seminal seem less focused on the national identity goals of the essay and often focus more on the dehumanization of La Malinche.  For example, in her Master’s Thesis, Ella M. Diaz claims: “Paz alleged that the Mexican nationality was too female, and therefore he called for the exclusion of Mexican women in the creation of a strong national identity” (Diaz, Ella M.  1500 by 1939 by 1998 – These Are the Measurements of Malinche’s Body: An Analysis and Review of Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Nationality; A Master’s Thesis.  Virginia: College of William and Mary, 2002.  39).  In contrast, Violeta Sanchez claims that “In Paz’s version of events, the mexicanos are the victims, the ones who have to pay the price for a sexually hungry Spaniard and a weak and passive indigenous woman” (Sanchez, Violeta.  Haciendole Justicia: A Discussion of Contemporary Works Claiming To Do Malinche Justice, A Master’s Thesis.  Houston, TX: University of Houston, 2007.  5).  Mary Louis Pratt views Paz as having written about La Malinche as having “constituted part of a debilitating self-hatred and misogyny that undermined the national psyche.” (Pratt, “Yo Soy La Malinche.”  860). 
[19] Octavio Paz, "The Sons of La Malinche," in The Labyrinthe of Solitude, 2nd ed., trans. Lysander Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips Belash (1961; repr., New York: Grove Press, Inc, 1985), 72. 
[20] Ibid., 73.
[21] Ibid., 75. 
[22] Ibid., 77.
[23] Ibid., 66. 
[24] Ibid., 80. 
[25] Ibid., 85-86. 
[26] The origins of the Chicano Movement are up for debate.  While Manuel Gonazales argues that they stem from a combination of influences such as the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the United Farm Workers (197), Carlos Munoz, Jr. contributes the movement heavily to the work of Mexican-American university students (16).  Armando Rendon ties the movement to country’s population feeling neglected by the federal government, with Mexican-Americans being “dismissed as a regional problem” due to their large numbers in the American Southwest (18).  I chose to agree with Gonzales’s argument because it seems to encompass the inspiration for the vast majority of groups within the Chicano Movement, coming both from another minority group and from organizations formed decades before to help the Mexican-American population.
[27] Armando B. Rendon, Chicano Manifesto: The history and aspirations of the second largest minority in America (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1971), 324.
[28]Manuel G. Gonzales, Mexicanos: The History of Mexicans in the United States (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 192. 
[29] Ibid., 193. 
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid. 
[32] Ibid. 
[33] Ibid., 192.
[34] Sandra Messinger Cypess, La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth (Austin: University of Austin Press, 1991), 4. 
[35] Rendon, Chicano Manifesto, 325.
[36] Carlos Munoz Jr., Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement, 2nd ed. (1989; repr., New York: Verso, 2007), 26. 
[37] Ibid., 92. 
[38] Gonzales, Mexicanos, 215.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid., 211. 
[41] Anonymous, "The Adelitas’ Role in El Movimeinto," in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, ed. Alma M. Garcia (New York: Routeledge, 1997), 119. 
[42] Ibid. 
[43] Ibid. 
[44] Ibid.
[45] Ibid., 118. 
[46] Ibid., 119.
[47] Martha P. Cotera, The Chicana Feminist (Austin, TX: Information Systems Development, 1977), 30. 
[48] Paz, Labyrinth, 86.
[49] Mary Louise Pratt, "'Yo Soy La Malinche': Chicana Writers and the Poetics of Ethnonationalism," Callaloo 16, no. 4 (Fall 1993): 860, accessed February 26, 2011,
[50] Cherrie L. Moraga, Loving in the War Years, 2nd ed. (1983; repr., Cambrdige: South End Press, 2000), 104.
[51] Ibid., 105. 
[52] Pratt, “‘Yo Soy La Malinche’”, 862.
[53] Cotera, The Chicana Feminist,  31. 
[54] Cypess, La Malinche in Mexican Literature, 12.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Alma M. Garcia, "Studying Chicanas: Bringing Women into the Frame of Chicano Studies," in Chicana voices : intersections of class, race, and gender, ed. Teresa Córdova (Alburquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1993), 20. 
[57] Ibid. 
[58] Ibid. 
[59] Ibid., 21.
[60] Cotera, The Chicana Feminst, 30.
[61] Pratt, “‘Yo Soy La Malinche’”, 865.  A copy of the original poem could not be obtained in time for examination during the paper writing process due to its rarity, and therefore the stanzas Pratt included had to be relied upon.  The complete poem can be found in: Quinonez, Naomi.  Sueno de Colibri/Hummingbird Dream.  Los Angeles: West End Press, 1985. 
[62] Ibid., 865-866.
[63] Ibid., 866.
[64] Ibid., 867. 
[65] Ibid.  Citation refers to version reprinted in Pratt’s piece, poem is also available in the Appendix 1 via my transcription from Pratt’s piece.
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid., 868. 
[68] Ibid., 861. 
[69] Ibid., 859. 
[70] Ibid., 860.
[71] Pratt, “‘Yo Soy La Malinche’”, 867-868.


Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.