The historical figure of Marina has been intermixed with Aztec legends (such as La Llorona, a ghost woman who weeps for her lost children). Her reputation has been altered over the years according to changing social and political perspectives, especially after the Mexican Revolution, when she was portrayed in dramas, novels, and paintings as an evil or scheming temptress. In Mexico today, La Malinche remains iconically potent. She is understood in various and often conflicting aspects as the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, or simply as symbolic mother of the new Mexican people. The term malinchista refers to a disloyal compatriot, especially in Mexico. Because of her controversial symbolization, a statue of La Malinche, Cortés, and their son Martín was removed soon after it was erected in Coyoacan, in the outskirts of Mexico City, in 1982. The statue was intended to be respectful of her trials and to emphasize the mestizo (or mixed-blood) character of the nation. However, student protests erupted: the protesters wanted no monument that presented Malinche in a positive light, for in their minds she was too closely associated with domination by outsiders and with betrayal.
La Malinche (also known as Malinalli, Malintzin or doña Marina) was born sometime between 1496 and 1501, in the region between the Aztec-ruled Valley of Mexico and the Maya states of the Yucatán Peninsula. She had come into a world that existed on the fringes of the political influence exerted by the particular group of Nahuas known today as the Aztecs (they called themselves "mexicas"). Malintzin was named after the Goddess of Grass, and later Tenepal meaning "one who speaks with liveliness."
In her youth, her father Cacique of Paynala died, and her mother remarried another Cacique and bore a son. Now a stepchild, the girl was given to some people from Xicalango.:85 Bernal Díaz del Castillo claims Malintzin's family faked her death by telling the townspeople that a recently deceased child of a slave was Malintzin. The Xicalango gave the child to the Tobascans.:85Before she was 20, she was renamed Marina by Spanish newcomers and called Malintzin by other indigenous people.
Malintzin was introduced to the Spanish in April 1519, when she was among 20 slave women given by the Chontal Maya of Potonchán (in the present-day state of Tabasco) after the Spaniards defeated them in battle. At this time, she was probably in her late teens or early 20s. It isn't clear how Malintzin was treated or how she felt about her captors at the time. Bernal Díaz del Castillo remarked on her beauty and graciousness; she was the only one of the slaves whose name he remembered. (He called her Marina, the Christian name she took upon being baptized in 1519.) Cortés singled her out as a gift for Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, perhaps the most well-born member of the expedition.:82 Soon, however, Puertocarrero was on his way to Spain as Cortés' emissary to Charles V, and Cortés kept her by his side for her value as an interpreter who spoke two native languages: Mayan and Nahuatl.
According to Díaz, she spoke to emissaries from Moctezuma in their native tongue Nahuatl and pointed to Cortés as the chief Spaniard to speak for them. Cortés had located a Spanish priest, Gerónimo de Aguilar, who had spent several years in captivity among the Maya peoples in Yucatán following a shipwreck. Thus, he had learned some Mayan, but he did not speak Nahuatl. Cortés used Marina for translating between the Nahuatl language (the common language of central Mexico of that time) and the Chontal Maya language. Then Aguilar could interpret from Mayan to Spanish:86 until Marina learned Spanish and could be the sole interpreter.