A traitor, survivor, and icon: La Malinche exhibit at SAMA

Before you visit, here’s what you need to know about her powerful story.


Was La Malinche a traitor or a victim?

Photo by SATXtoday team

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A new, special exhibit has made its way to the San Antonio Museum of Art telling the story of an enslaved Indigenous girl turned historic icon.

The origin of an enslaved woman

The legacy of La Malinche begins around the time of the Spanish–Aztec War (1519–1521).

Malinche was enslaved at the age of eight or nine years old. During her early years, she traveled across the Yucatan Peninsula, learning both Yucatec and Nahuatl — the languages of the Mayan and Aztec people.

Hernán Cortés, the Spanish-born conquistador, arrived at the city of Pontonchan with intention of conquering the Aztec Empire. As a peace offering, city leaders gifted Cortés twenty enslaved women — among them was Malinche. She would eventually bare Cortés a son, Martin, in 1522.

The origin of a name

Born as Malinalli, after the goddess of grass, the Indigenous slave wouldn’t don her infamous name until after the war.

Malinalli proved useful serving as Cortés’ personal translator, which helped usher in a new era of Spanish domination. It was at this time that the Aztec community began calling her Malitzen, obtaining an unprecedented amount of influence that shaped the trajectory of the war.

This position of power was achieved at the cost of countless lives, though. Her nickname, La Malinche, was then regarded with animosity and a feeling of betrayal.

See it for yourself

La Malinche left no records of her own life. Her story can only be retold through secondhand accounts and historical interpretation.

However, you can see these accounts for yourself for a limited time at the San Antonio Museum of Art now through January 8, 2023. Tickets for the special exhibit can be purchased online or in-person.

You can also plan to attend an upcoming lecture on Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s contributions to the visual history of La Malinche at the museum on Tuesday, Nov. 15 or by tuning in virtually.

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