October 12, el Día de la Raza, marks the emerging of a new branch of humankind, the mestizo, a mix of American indigenous and European. The eventual conquest and fall of the Mesoamerican civilizations is celebrated by some, lamented by others, but both victors and vanquished acknowledge that it is an event of great consequence. The symbolic patriarch of this new race is the Spaniard Don Hernán Cortés Monroy Pizarro Altamirano. The mother is a Nahua slave, first known as Malinalli, later baptized Marina by the Spanish when they received her among a group of twenty female slaves. She had first been given to Alonso Hernández Portocarrero, but when he was called to return to Spain, Hernán Cortés took her as his slave, Nahuátl-Mayan interpreter, and lover. Their son, Martín Cortés, considered one of the first mestizos, was born in 1522. In addition to interpreter and lover, Malinalli eventually became war councilor, diplomat, and spy for Cortés .
Malinalli is known in history as Malintzín, Malinche, or Doña Marina. She was still a child when her life took an unfortunate turn as her father, a cacique of some influence, died, and her mother remarried and soon gave birth to a son. In order to establish that son as ruler, her mother sold Malinalli as a slave, and she eventually came to be owned by a Mayan ruler in the Tabasco region, where she learned the Mayan language. Her native language was Nahuátl. The concession of the twenty slave girls was made when the Spaniards defeated the Tabascans at the Battle of Centla.
Malinalli eventually learned Spanish, but she began her work as Cortés´s interpreter even before she had mastered his language, with the help of a shipwrecked Spaniard, Jeronimo de Aguilar, who had been held in captivity by Mayans and was rescued by Cortés in Cozumel. Malinalli translated from Nahuátl to Mayan, and de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish.
There is considerable evidence that Malinalli was much more than a simple translator and concubine for Cortés. The soldier and historian Bernal Diaz del Castillo called her a great woman. Indigenous drawings of the time seldom show Hernán Cortés without Doña Marina by his side, and she is even portrayed alone, directing events without him.
While much appreciated by the Spaniards, she has been maligned as a traitor to her own people, and even today, a person who reveres foreign cultures, goods, and people, is called in derision a “Malinchista.”
Whether a hero, a traitor, or simply a victim of circumstances, this Mother of the Mestizo Race was surely a very intelligent woman whose strength and independent spirit were far ahead of her time and circumstances.
Human acts, whether driven by benevolence, evil or uncontrollable forces, may have far-reaching consequences, and those consequences have the potential for good and evil. October 12 may be a day of celebration for some and lamentation for others, but for everyone it marks a formidable change in the history of humanity.