LA MALINCHE / DONA MARINA
Life in Mexico in the 16th century was generally no fun at all; while you might have access to chocolate, cocaine and gold, there was always a good chance that today was the day an Aztec would decide your heart needed ripping out and your head kicked down a flight of pyramid steps to stay on their god’s good side.
It was bad enough that when a bunch of weird dudes with rifles came over openly declaring their intent to steal all the gold, enslave all the people and destroy all vestiges of local culture, a fair amount of non-Aztec natives figured that on the whole they were getting a decent deal. La Malinche was among twenty slave women given to the Spanish as spoils of battle, but her skill with languages made her far more valuable than just Hernan Cortes’ mistress (although she ended up being that, as well).
Dona Marina (as she came to be known among the Spaniards) was instrumental to the tiny Spanish army’s eventual victory, interpreting intelligence and cultivating allies among the many tribes sick of being kicked around by the Aztecs.
Today, la Malinche is a controversial figure — while some argue that she was working in the best interests of her native people by aiding the Europeans and persuading Cortes to be more humane than he might have been, others think of her as such a profound traitor that her name is practically a curse. Regardless, without her it’s very likely Cortes’ expedition would’ve foundered, changing history forever.