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Fronteras: ‘She empowers mestizos’ — New exhibit reexamines the complex story of La Malinche

After the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mesoamerica during the 16th century, they toppled the Aztec Empire of Tenochtitlan with the help of a young indigenous girl.

La Malinche — also known throughout history as Doña Marina, Malintzin or Malinalli — was among a group of enslaved women who were given to the Spaniards when they first arrived.

Skilled at learning language and dialects, she became the translator and cultural interpreter for Hernán Cortés.

Five hundred years later, critics argue that Malinche’s role as translator directly led to the conquest of indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica.

Mexican poet Octavio Paz’s essay “The Sons of La Malinche” explicitly labeled her as a woman who betrayed her people and her nation.

A new exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) aims to revisit Malinche’s legacy and her artistic portrayals throughout history.

The “Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche” exhibit is separated into five sections, highlighting Malinche’s impact on indigeneity, national identity, and female empowerment.

Lucía Abramovich Sánchez, the Associate Curator of Latin American Art at SAMA, says the exhibit repaints Malinche as much more than just a traitor.

“She was complex, like we all are as human beings,” she said. “We are celebrating her and celebrating the artists and the visual culture that have shown her throughout the course of history, but it is also showing her complicated story.”

Santa Barraza, a Chicana artist whose work is featured in the exhibit, says Malinche is a survivor.

“She only lived to 24, 25, 26 years of age,” she said. “If you look at it, she made this transformation not (just) spiritually, but physically and politically. It’s an incredible story.”

The exhibit runs through Jan. 8.

Watch former San Antonio Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla recite her poem, “La Malinche” below.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1