As a collection, these works describe the shifting meaning of the historical figure known today by three names: doña Marina, Malintzin, Malinche. The source documents range widely across time and media, from the 16th to the 20th century—from chronicle to poetry, essay to sculpture. This collection therefore begs the methodological question: what lends historical authority to an image or written text? For instance, how, or why, can a painting become a viable historical source? No writing or visual image is known today that records doña Marina’s own words or thoughts. It will therefore be useful to ask what perspective on doña Marina each of these sources creates. Reading comparatively, one can look across a selection of these sources with an eye to the events and vocabulary they underscore. Just as one might read texts for their particular emphases or omissions, images can be read in terms of composition and descriptive language (where Malintzin appears, what she wears, what environment or setting she occupies, with what degree of care or inattention each figure is rendered). The 16th-century sources offer an opportunity to weigh distinct ways of representing the Spanish conquest of Mexico and its participants. The 20th-century materials invite further reflection on the legacy of this conquest, the Chicano movement, feminist expression in the United States, and border histories. Attending to the nuances of visual and verbal language in recent sources—“code-switching,” from English to Spanish, or the materials and compositions used to portray Malinche—opens conversations about the way a historical figure accrues or sheds meaning over time.

Discussion questions:

  • Consider how 16th-century sources describe doña Marina, Malintzin. What do their similarities (and differences) suggest about her historical role and reputation in the first decades after the Spanish conquest?
  • In what ways do the perspectives expressed in 20th-century images of and writings about Malinche differ from those of the 16th century? What do these differences suggest about historical “accuracy”: whose perspectives on this woman are most binding—those of the conquistadors who knew her, or 20th-century feminists who see her as a role model, or painters and sculptors who render her in visual terms?