Héctor García González Pocahontas and Malinche: Mothers of Peoples

Every nation has myths that justify or explain certain characteristics of its nature. When history does not provide a satisfactory explanation about some aspects of a culture, the peoples create stories that fill the gap between things as they are, and things as they should be; hence the origin of myths and legends. In the American culture there is a myth that seems to be particularly important: the story of Pocahontas, the heroic Indian girl who saved the captive John Smith from being killed. Throughout centuries, that story has caused debates –about its authenticity– and, at the same time, has inspired many literary works that praise the Indian girl as a central figure in the American ethos. Thus, the myth of Pocahontas is important to understand the American culture. This foundational myth has a counterpart in the Mexican culture: the story of Malinche, Hernán Cortés’ lover and translator. Nevertheless, although both stories are basically the same, they serve to different purposes. As Philip Young observes in his essay about Pocahontas, this important myth has multiple functions. On a superficial reading, it is a story that teaches the value of self-sacrifice and religious conversion; on a deeper interpretation, it is a justification for the American imperialism. Thus, the function of the myth is to ease the guilt caused by the way in which the colonists started to treat the Native Americans. Furthermore, the myth might fulfill a wish for an ideal love not constrained by racial barriers. In this way, the Myth of Pocahontas sublimates the violent collision of two cultures; by loving and accepting willingly the conqueror, Pocahontas became the mother of a new race of men, of a new country. Cunningly, the Americans found the way to

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Despite this unfortunate beginning for a relationship. Both stories share similar characteristics. the Americans have created a romantic heroine. Nevertheless. Both women symbolically gave birth to new nations. and whose love sanctions their presence. Malinche is a slave forced to serve the conqueror. Likewise Pocahontas. This unpleasant part of the story –which in Pocahontas is conveniently veiled– is precisely the core of Malinche’s Myth. this is. The Mexicans have no interest in forgetting the violence of the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans. Only one of these women represents a promising beginning. but in the Mexican version there is no happy ending. for she saves him from destruction. From the story of the Indian girl in love with the conqueror. but while many Americans would be proud of tracing their ancestry back to Pocahontas. 2 . on the contrary.forget the tragedy that the European arrival to the new world represented for the Indians. Malinche’s story is somehow Pocahontas’ opposite. Malinche does not experience love at first sight with the conqueror. although her offspring is far from being proud of such an origin. they cherish the myth of Malinche as a reminder of what they consider a calamitous event. For instance. she was given to Cortés as a slave. he abandons her and gives her over to another man. a story of unrequited love. few Mexicans would be proud of being a descendant of Malinche. as in Pocahontas’ case. the Mexicans have created an involuntary villainess. from the same story. alerting the conquistador of a plot against his army. and created a myth that provides a blessed origin for their nation. Pocahontas is a woman who willingly accepts the new comers. Indeed. Malinche must have loved Cortés. who helps them. for although Malinche procreated a child with Cortés. Malinche is also the mother of a new race. and whose sin is precisely to love her oppressor.

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