Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

The hidden monument (Malinchismo)

Posted by lucypopescu on August 2, 2009

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The Hidden Monument: Cortes, Malinche and Martin

Malinchismo seems to have entered the Mexican lexicon sometime in the late 1940s. Octavio Paz mentions the term in his book of essays, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). It refers to the taste for something foreign or exotic. More often than not it is used in a pejorative sense by Mexicans against their fellow country men and women who enjoy the company of foreigners or prefer their outlandish ways and ideals over Mexican culture.

It is only natural that the spread of television into homes across Mexico helped promote a fascination with all things foreign. Apparently in 1968 Mexican President Diaz Ordáz gave a speech where he scolded the Mexicans: “Our malinchismo is holding us back. We must get over it.” The term gained currency in the 1990s when Mexico opened itself up to outside spheres of influence and began importing goods. Malinchistas were those who encouraged Mexico to open itself to the outside world (for better or for worse).

The term is linked to foreign intervention and was born out of what Paz refers to as “the curse that weighs against La Malinche.”

Malinche was the daughter of a noble Indian family; some reports suggest she was of Mayan descent, others that she was the daughter of an Aztec nobleman. Whatever the truth, the important thing is that she knew various Mayan dialects and understood Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Upon her father’s death, her mother remarried and after giving birth to a son, she sold/gave her daughter to some passing traders. Malinche was taken to Tabasco where she wound up as the slave of the cacique, a tribal leader. Here, some say, she learned Spanish from the shipwrecked conquistadores that were washed up on the nearby shores. By the time she was given as a gift to the leader of the conquistadores, Hernan Cortés, she was a natural linguist. She became known as the “silver-tongued translator” of Cortés and later bore him a son. It is not known whether she willingly became Cortes’ lover or was raped and this seems to have contributed to the ambivalence with which so many Mexican hold her today. By all accounts she was respected by Cortés and other conquistadores.  In a letter preserved in the Spanish archives, Cortés wrote: “After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.”

It is perhaps because of the reverence in which she is held by the Spaniards that for centuries Malinche has been considered a traitor by many Mexicans despite the fact that her interpreting and well-documented diplomacy skills helped prevent widespread slaughter and her son is, in fact, the first true Mexican. In recent years, this negative image has started to shift.

La Malinche by Jose Clemente Orozco

In 1926, the renowned Mexican artist, José Clemente Orozco presented Malinche as the Mexican Eve in his mural: Cortés and Malinche (seen here).

Eighty years later, in 2007, popular Mexican author, Laura Esquivel, attempted to set the record straight with her novella Malinche; an imaginative recreation of the life of the native interpreter and her love affair with Cortés.

Jaime thinks that attitudes towards Malinche have changed with the rise of globalisation in Mexico. In the 1980s, he recalls that a statue of Malinche, Cortés, and their son Martín was placed before the entrance to the main church in Coyoacan Plaza in Mexican City. It was meant to celebrate the Mestizaje (mixed race Mexicans), but was greeted by outrage by many Mexican, who evidently still considered Cortés as “the invader” and Malinche his “whore.*  So the statue disappeared overnight and there was no mention of where it had gone. Some time later, Jaime found it, completely by accident, when walking in a small park on the outskirts of Coyoacan. He was utterly surprised to stumble across it concealed behind bushes and trees.

Parque de Xicotencatl

Parque de Xicotencatl

There are impeccably researched historical and academic accounts of Cortés and Malinche that fail to mention the statue or indeed go so far as to state that there are no monuments to either that exist in the country. So today, we set off to discover one of Mexico’s best kept secrets and we were not to be disappointed. It seems there has been another change of heart. I was surprised at the grandeur of the monument. Although, situated in a pretty, anonymous park of Mexico, the statue is no longer obscured by undergrowth and is sitting on its original pedestal. The regality of the three cannot be ignored.hands

The insistence of their hands  had me transfixed: Are they challenging, commanding, demanding or supplicating?

The sculptor’s identity is still a mystery, so if any readers have the answer, please post below.

*To this day, there is no other monument to Cortés in Mexico. His remains are in Hospital de Jesus, in line with his wish to be buried in Mexico City, and are marked by a discreet plaque.

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