Craig Smith; Albuquerque Museum
A young native woman known as La Malinche played a central role in the communication between the Spanish and the indigenous people of Mexico 500 years ago. The teenager had been gifted to Hernán Cortés, and she translated negotiations and conflicts between him and the Aztec emperor Montezuma. She is remembered as a survivor and sometimes as a traitor to help the Spanish conquerors, but always as a woman with valued language skills.
La Malinche is the center of the festival
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 pull on their pearl-studded suits decorated with the Virgin of Guadalupe. They wear high hats with fringes covering their eyes, and prepare for the Matachines dance, which represents the introduction of Catholicism to the indigenous peoples. At the head of the procession stands a young girl dressed in white with a veil.
Yasmin Khan to NPR
“The easiest part is when you put one foot in front of the other. I missed a few steps, but I’m pretty good,” said nine-year-old Jasmine Trujillo, who has played La Malinche six times in her village. takes over after his sister who grew up from the role.
As in most new Mexican villages, La Malinche here is a symbol of purity, the connection of the indigenous peoples to the Catholic faith brought by the Spaniards. But in other villages, including Mexico, she is represented as a traitor. Theodore Chavez is the leading Matachines dancer called a Monarca.
“Here she just represents goodness. She is the goodness of the piece and the goodness of the dance,” Chavez says.
Lent by Paul Polubinskas, Estate of Teddy Sandoval. Photo by Elon Schoenholz; Albuquerque Museum
Exploring her complex heritage
La Malinche was a young native woman who was 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 the indigenous people. Her controversial legacy inspired a number 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 a slave-bound native woman. And she was forced into a situation that she had to negotiate,” Lopez says. “The legacy of La Malinche is truly a fascinating storytelling. And you will see all the repetitions of storytelling developed in the exhibition.”
The artwork was last in Denver. Lopez and other Chicana curators created the traveling exhibition to examine La Malinche’s symbolic significance and its relevance to women today.
© Mercedes Gertz; Albuquerque Museum
“I think Malinche has also come to embody an important element in how we think about women’s roles 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 that we have to live in and transfer between in our lives, “she said.
Delilah Montoya, a Chicana artist with several works in the exhibition, says that even though this young woman was enslaved, historical accounts show that she helped bring two powerful nations together.
“We’re talking about a teenager taking on this amazing, enormous responsibility. We do not know what she felt about being Cortés’ tongue. We do not know when she died. But what we do know is that she survived And together with her, other people survived, “Montoya said. “We also know that the Native American people, the first nation, honored her. We know that because the way she is presented in the codes is presented as someone who is just a little bit taller. She is always there. I think they understood how important she was. Two powerful worlds first came together in her mind. “
Although La Malinche was honored in some indigenous records, Montoya points out that the Spaniards may not have seen her in that light, even though she navigated several languages.
“I mean, they did not even know for sure what she was translating. For all they know, she said something completely different than what they wanted her to say … I mean, here was a language, Spanish. “language that no one has ever heard before. And she had to find out. And there were other languages she found out,” she says. “She was this amazing person who was able to feel these other cultures.”
Department of Special Collections, Stanford Libraries. © Delilah Montoya; Albuquerque Museum
One of Montoya’s works in the exhibition is a codex, a wide paper panel painted with scenes of women’s development through 500 years of Spanish occupation in Mexico and New Mexico. It includes women who are important to Chicago’s history, such as the Virgin of Guadalupe and ending up 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, women’s contributions were rarely recorded. Her code aims to change that.
The exhibition includes a wide range of works incorporating La Malinche, from photographs to traditional wooden altars.
Reflection on descendants in the same communities
Lopez says it also seeks to clarify the true nature of the state of New Mexico, which goes beyond the idea that Anglo, Latin American, and Native American communities lived peacefully side by side for centuries.
“We know it’s a mythology. It was a very violent story that brought many of those cultures together here in New Mexico, at the same time that through exhibitions like this we are trying to do the work of recognizing the violence that happened at intersections between these cultures, “says Lopez. “We are also trying to turn in the direction of a sense of healing and a sense of understanding of how there are crosses between our indigenous and Chicano cultures.”
She says the involvement of the Matachines dancers in the Albuquerque iteration of the exhibition is an example of these crosses.
“Those rituals still exist today, in both of these communities,” she said.
The interpretation of the dance and La Malinche varies between the communities. For Jasmine Trujillo, who has played La Malinche in San Isidro de Sedillo most of her life, her reasons for dedicating herself to the role are rooted in her Catholic faith:
“Because I love Jesus so much and I want to dance for him.”
Jasmine and other successors of La Malinche develop their complex roles in the festivities and in their communities.