She was born, Ce Malinalli Tenepal in the year 1500, as we calculate time. Her first name means creeping plant in native Nahuatl, or trepadora, and her last name means “one who possesses speech.” They say she was born to endure trials, war and the uprooting of the old order.
She was a Mexica princess born to a rich cacique of Culhucán. She came from a proud people – la gente del sol, descendants of Huitzilopochtli the sun god, who betrayed his people with his hunger for human hearts. Before they entered the Valley of Mexico and established their city Tenochtitlan in the year 2-House (AD 1325), they had lived in peace, hidden underground in caves, protected and spied on by the gods. They traveled from Aztlán, the place of the herons, to a marshland now known as the Valley of Mexico. How and why Malinalli came to live among the Mayas in Cozumel is a story of hardship and deceit. She was cast out of her own family, a victim of family rivalry and quarrels, and sent to live and work among the Mayas.
The great emperor Moctezuma had seen omens: an eclipse of the sun, a comet that crossed the sky and struck at the nation’s most sacred temple, and many other signs that told him Quetzalcoatl, the god of peace, would return. Lord 1-Reed, Ce Acatl Topiltzin, landed on the shores of Yucatán on Good Friday, April 22, 1519. Never did the young Malinalli imagine that she would become the god’s lover. But that is what happened. She, along with other women, were given to the white men, los teules, who dressed in strange clothes and rode on beasts that frightened her people. Malinalli was told that she was not to sleep with the god Quetzalcoatl, also named Hernán Cortés, until she had been received into his religion. It was in Cozumel that Malinalli, La Trepadora, was called Malintzin and later Malinche, which was the foreigners’ way of pronouncing her name. After her conversion to Catholicism, La Trepadora was renamed Doña Marina.
Malinalli found favor with the god Cortés, and he became known as Malinche or el capitán de Malinche. She was favored, perhaps for her beauty, but more so because she knew the language of los Mexicas, Nahuatl. This was of great importance to Cortés, and Malinalli, being a slave and a woman, quickly recognized her duty. She grew to love la serpiente con plumas, fair-skinned, blue-eyed and bearded – truly Quetzalcoatl himself! She stood by his side as his translator when the great Moctezuma received him with pomp and splendor in his magnificent palace, adorned in gold and jade and wearing a headdress of quetzal feathers.
Malinalli became pregnant with the god’s child and bore his son, whom he named Martin, after his own father. He became known as un mestizo, her own son, with two nations running in his blood!
Nothing is recorded to give us an idea of what went through the mind of La Malinche as she observed the destruction of her own people. Did she suffer remorse? Did she see something in Cortés, so powerful that it dwarfed the very life within her? These questions will remain open to speculation and will bear no reasonable answers, except that La Trepadora crept into the souls of her unborn children, becoming for all time the Mother of Mestizaje. She was part conquistadora, part conquistada, waving in one hand a Spanish banner and in the other a bright-colored plume. She was fearless and small, powerful and passive, a jaguar with a wounded paw – unafraid.
Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her writing career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Her work has won awards and honors nationwide.