La Malinche is known by various names including Malintzin and doña Marina. She was born around 1500 in the Yucatán peninsula. She had a difficult childhood and was sold into slavery to a group of Mayans after her father’s death. She was later given to yet another tribe as tribute. Through her circumstances she was forced to learn several indigenous languages. She also learned Spanish through her friendship with a Spanish priest while she was enslaved.
In March of 1519 she was given to Hernan Cortés along with approximately 20 other enslaved women as part of a declaration of peace. She was treated with respect by the conquistadors due to her beauty, mannerisms and fluency in the Spanish language. She stayed close to Cortés during an expedition they soon undertook as she was a valuable interpreter to him in his negotiations with Moctezuma, the then Aztec leader. She is often depicted at the side of Cortés in the images made of this fateful meeting. According to some records, La Malinche learned of a plan by the indigenous Cholula people to cooperate with the Aztecs to destroy the small Spanish army. She alerted Cortés and as such she is often viewed as a traitor to this day by some indigenous peoples.
Cortés defeated Moctezuma in 1521 and the following year La Malinche gave birth to his son. From 1524 to 1526 Cortés once again used her services to quell a rebellion in Honduras. The details of her later life are not clear. La Malinche eventually married a Spanish hidalgo by the name of Juan Jaramillo and had a daughter with him who was raised by Jaramillo and his second wife after La Malinche’s death. Her son was raised primarily by the family of Hernán Cortés.