Of the great Latin empire's, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations were two of the most prominent, until Spanish colonisation occurred that is. As mighty as they were, they fell to their Spanish conquerors, with the aide of a native woman, La Malinche.
La Malinche grew up in a part of Latin America which was an indigenous region between the Aztec and Mayan tribal lands (modern day central Mexico) in the early years of the sixteenth century. Following the death her father when she was young, her stepmother sold her into slavery to the Mayans once she bore a son.
When she was a young adult, Malinche was part of a group of twenty slave girls that were offered up to the Spanish following the victory of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés at the Mayan town of Tobasco in 1519. Cortés soon learned of Malinche's ability to speak not just Mayan, but Nahuatl (the native language of the Aztec's) as well. The Spanish named her Marina following her baptism.
In his early conquests Cortés had discovered Spanish priest Geronimo de Aguilar living there after being shipwrecked many years earlier. Aguilar could speak Mayan well, and was a significant translator for Cortés between the Spanish and Mayans, but he could not converse with the Aztec's. In the early negotiations with the Aztec, Malinche would speak directly with the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in their native tongue and translate it into Mayan for Aguilar, who would translate it into Spanish for Cortés.
Malinche however quickly learned Spanish and was able to then converse with Cortés directly, which developed a close relationship between the two. While at Cortés' side, Malinche used her translating skills to rally indigenous American tribes to Cortés' cause, especially those that were enemies of Aztec's.
Although Malinche was a native, she grew fond of Cortés, and even alerted Cortés of the Aztec plans to destroy Cortés and his conquests thus far, all the while pretending to be on the native's side. This act greatly assisted Cortés in taking the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, which signified the fall of the Aztec.
The following year Malinche have birth to a son she had with Cortés (Martin Cortés), who would become known as one of the first Mestizos (European and Native American mixed race). She spent her time living in a house Cortés purpose built for her in Coyoacán while Tenochtitlan was being rebuilt as Mexico City. Several years later she played a pivotal role in assisting Cortes in putting down the uprising in Honduras.
By the time Cortés' wife had arrived, Malinche was given to Spanish nobleman Juan Jaramilla, whom she married in Orizaba, and they had a daughter Doña María. Accounts of Malinche were scarce after this time and it is suspected that she died not long after.
History does not always look favourably upon Malinche, today her name is still associated with being a traitor to Mexico, the woman who handed the Aztec's to the Spanish, and is commonly used in colloquial reference to someone who abandons their heritage. On the other hand she is also referred to by others as a heroine of her time, who aided in ending the tyrannic rule of the Aztec, and did what she needed to do to survive.