Date of Award

Fall 2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Spanish


Languages & Literatures


Dr. Julia Medina


Born with the name Malinalli, La Malinche was an indigenous woman, part of the Nahua tribe, who was sold into slavery as a young girl. She was given as a gift to the Spanish upon their arrival to what we now know as Mexico, and she assisted Hernan Cortés in the conquest of Mexico through translations and guidance. Without her help, Cortés would have been lost, died, or had to turn back around. La Malinche is a complex figure as she is simultaneously viewed as a traitor by some, and hailed as the mother of Mexico by others. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the life of Malinalli and all of its complex possibilities, as well as humanize her for the person she was versus the mythical versions that she is continuously portrayed as. This research analyzes the contributions to the narrative held by La Malinche as a traitor, and further questions why she modernly is not seen for what she was; an indigenous slave who was raped and abused.

The legacy left by Malinalli is historically and culturally significant to the development and establishment of Mexico. She was the mother to Cortes’ first born son, or the first mestizo, which refers to someone of mixed Spanish and indigenous blood. Their son is symbolic of a shared Indigenous and Spanish heritage which makes up what we know as modern Mexico. La Malinche especially continues to shape cultural beliefs in Mexico through machismo, or strong masculine pride. Malinalli serves as a foundation to machismo as it blames women for betrayal and misfortune. Along with this, the establishment and use of the term “malinchismo,” which refers to acting against the interests of your people, or preferring cultures other than your own. Malinchismo continues to reinforce the vision of La Malinche as a traitor to her people all of these years later.

This completed thesis project also illuminates that the effects of the colonization of the Aztec empire, led by Hernan Cortes, are still with us today. The conquest of indigenous people has prompted machismo, a loss of culture and identities, and the continuous suppression ofmissing and murdered indigenous women. The importance of La Malinche is that the misconceptions and negative connotations associated with her continue to represent indigenous people who are already erased from history and misrepresented as it is. In its completion, this project will examine themes of colonization, feminism, gender roles, indigenous people, and historical significance to Mexican culture. This investigation will be developed through an analytical research paper that aims to question and examine how to shift the commonly held narrative of La Malinche as a traitor, to Malinalli as a victim of the Spanish conquest.

La Malinche is ambiguous as her identity has continued to be erased, or has tended to resurface in romanticized ways. While there are no autobiographical works that can lead us into her own thoughts, primary and secondary sources, as well as artwork, are essential to clueing us into her reality. My approach to address the issue at hand includes profound analysis of colonial and theoretical texts, primarily in Spanish with a few in English, along with the use of historical and contemporary art pieces. The findings of this research are based upon primary and secondary sources dating from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519 to present day. The citations for all of my referenced sources are included at the end of my paper in accordance with MLA standards.