malitzzz - Camilla Townsend, Malintzins Choices: An Indian...

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Camilla Townsend, Malintzin’s Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico . Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. Camilla Townsend’s meticulously researched narrative of the Spanish seizure of power in sixteenth-century Mexico ably places a much-maligned historical figure back into her proper historical context. The woman in question, “Malintzin” in the language of Moctezuma, was the interpreter for the Spanish expedition leader, Hernando Cortés. Townsend makes her come alive as one who played an essential role through an epic transitional period in Mexican history. Whereas nineteenth and early twentieth-century authors have demonized “Malinche,” as they call her, for aiding the Contextualizing Malinche 220 Spanish conquerors, Townsend reminds us that the adolescent indigenous girl started her new life among the invaders as a slave “who had no choice in the matter” except to do as she was told (2). Figure 1. Photo by Stephanie Wood (©2002), of the murals in Tlaxcala, showing Malintzin as a central figure in her historic role as interpreter for Hernando Cortés. This book also fits within a context. Revisionism surrounding Malintzin has grown steadily since the 1970s, when feminists particularly in the United States began deconstructing the paradigm that made her a scapegoat for the Spanish conquest. Revisionists recast her first as a victim, then as a survivor, and finally as a bridge between cultures, as Townsend recognizes. Townsend makes an effort to return to the manuscripts and glean every verifiable detail that she can from the historical record, apparently with the similar intention of giving Malintzin's place in history a more fair-minded treatment. Works of art and poetry, not explored in Townsend's book, have also endeavored to return some agency and positive attributes to the denigrated interpreter. Where relevant, I will point to promising directions for comparisons that could be made between Malintzin's Choices and these other revisionist works. Wood 221 Ironically, the consummate interpreter who bridged the Atlantic world cannot speak directly to us from the past; historians lack a single document from Malintzin’s own hand. The best we can do to try to capture Malintzin’s unique perspective on pivotal events is to retrace her steps through all the sources that either mention her or that might help us reconstruct indigenous views of that period more generally. Townsend is a scholar especially well situated to write this new narrative of the age of contact. She is one of a growing number of academics who recognize the importance of utilizing indigenous-language manuscripts for a more balanced history of Mexico. Her expertise lies with Nahuatl annals, chronologically-
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based listings of historical events, some of which stem from the Spanish invasion. Townsend is also an adept reader of Spanish- language accounts, able to weigh the evidence when records differ and read between the lines of texts, seeking to understand what came
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This note was uploaded on 05/19/2011 for the course CHEM 51615 taught by Professor Fatima during the Spring '11 term at University of Texas at Austin.

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malitzzz - Camilla Townsend, Malintzins Choices: An Indian...

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