Monday, August 10, 2009

[¿] Viva la Malinche [!]

One of the reasons that I love living in New York so much is the amount of interesting people you can randomly meet. A few weeks ago I met an American, from Texas, who spent four years of his life in Oaxaca, Mexico. He even helped building a library for the children there. He is perfectly fluent in Spanish, often using words that I never use as part of my daily vocabulary. He paid a renewal fee for his visa every year he stayed in Mexico. He loved the people, the food, the culture, etc…

How plausible! –I think… and that’s it… I think. I wouldn’t do that. Ever. Go to Oaxaca for four years and live the Oaxaqueñean lifestyle (let me remark that Oaxaca is the poorest, or at least one of the poorest- states in Mexico). No, thank you very much. I am rather happy living in Manhattan, already planning my next European destination. What a malinchista I am!

If you are not Mexican, you might be wondering what in hell does malinchista mean. Well, let me introduce you to the term, to the legend. Malintzin –as she was called by the native indians in Central Mexico- was a woman who served as interpreter (and wife) ([!]) for Hernán Cortés (the most important Spanish conquistador of Mexico). Malinche is most likely the record of her name as the Spaniards mispronounced it. She was christened as Marina. And among the elite of the conquistador scene, she was referred to as Doña Marina – being doña a title of high respect. In fact, the red house -la Casa Colorada- that is visible from the park on the image above was the house Cortés gave to her, in Coyoacán.

La Malinche was already fluent in Náhuatl –the lingua franca of Central Mexico- and Mayan by the time she was presented to Cortés as a gift, among other women. She learned Spanish rather quickly, and that is how she became Cortés’ interpreter. She naturally belonged to an upper, educated class, and was, therefore, understanding of the tribes and peoples in the Mesoamerican area now known as Mexico, but that would later be known as the New Spain. This knowledge of hers allowed her to become more than just an interpreter for the great conquistador. She was said to be his best counselor, almost a strategist.

Nowadays, many Mexicans hold her responsible for the easiness with which the Spaniards conquered the Mesoamerican kingdoms. She is often regarded as some kind of whore who sold herself to the Europeans, someone who rejected her own culture and even participated in its destruction. Some others see her as some kind of savior of the race and preserver of her native culture, since she could have eased, to some extent, the magnitude of the conquest. Who knows…? Her truth remains uncertain, but her reputation is certainly very bad. “Malinchista” is now a term used to describe Mexicans who like and prefer foreign cultures and tastes to their own.

God knows I love Mexico [City] more than my words could ever express it… although even the angels know that my love for Paris is even greater. But then again, my Francophilia might have been acquired precisely because of my living in Mexico City… a place that was highly “parisized” by Porfirio Díaz -a Mexican president who governed the country for 30+ years. May he rest in peace at the cimmitière de Montparnasse. However, this post is about Doña Marina… I’ll write about Don Porfirio (and about la Doña, while I’m at it,) some other time.

I do prefer many aspects of different cultures and places to their Mexican counterparts, yet I always end up proving myself a true Mexican. For example, French is my favorite language, but no foreign swearwords ever taste as good as they do in Mexican (a huevo!); I love Stela and Rioja, but Corona and Corralejo stimulate my lips to better smiles; masaman curry and focaccia con prosciutto di parma are some of my top menu destinations, but my best vacations always involve a good pozole estilo Jalisco and tacos al pastor (con piña, sin cilantro y mucha salsa, de la que pica, por favor).

Yes, I am fully aware of the fact that I only mentioned edibles. I do like my table to be Mexican. I also like my TV to be American and my films to be Spanish and French. My ipod sounds best with New York indie and my bookshelf reads Folio and Strands more than anything else. I know Bruges and Antwerp better than I know San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, and I remember Parisian subway stations better than I remember the ones in Mexico City. I like Saint Germain des Près better than Polanco and the Meatpacking district is more fun than la Condesa [yes, I said it, what?] [!].

I could go on for pages and pages listing my contrasting likings, but I’ll spare you the pain, and will instead say that my foreign tastes don’t make me unique at all. Malinchismo is the Mexican name of a universal cliché. Thomas Jefferson liked France and so did Picasso and Van Gogh. Dalí liked New York, and so did John Lenon and many others. I don’t think any of the artists I just mentioned would have preferred a different nationality. I understand they were all quite proud of their own, and so am I… but as I always tell my disenchanted parents, Mexico does not burn in my bones. I don’t think any place does.

La Malinche might have been a traitor or a savior. I might be a malinchista or a “citizen of the world”, I might be considered many other things for that matter… but who cares about labels anyways. The truth is that we live in a very different era than she did, and we should also understand that life should be more appreciated than any country; what matters is what you say, not in what language you say it.

Traveling and living in different places should open minds and hearts; it should nourish curiosity and cause thirst of knowledge. What it shouldn’t cause is rejection or disappointment. La Malinche incarnates the mother of Mexicans better than Guadalupe ever will. She is no miraculous virgin, but she gave us an identity as spicy as habanero peppers and as inebriating as anís, and for that, I thank her.

Que viva la Malinche [!]