El Salvador: poetry from the Civil War years: translations from Spanish by Keith Ellis

Roberto Huezo_from his series Let Me Be a Witness depicting images of suffering and death from the revolution and civil war in El Salvador (1979-1992)
Roberto Huezo_from his series Let Me Be a Witness depicting images of suffering and death from the revolution and civil war in El Salvador (1979-1992)

Roberto Quesada, born 1956
The Battle of Acaxual
City washed by waves,
8 June, 1524
(well into the sixteenth century)
Pedro de Alvarado *
(alias TONATIUH)
almost lost his breeches
when he saw he had only
a hundred cavalrymen
and a hundred and two horses,
a hundred and fifty white infantry men
and more or less
six thousand Indian auxiliaries.
Against a plain
teeming with natives,
with slingshots and clumps of earth in their hands,
And you, what did you say?
that with clumps of earth in our hands
they were going to seize us?
studied the situation
and ordered his men
to withdraw quietly and slowly.
The Acaxualian comrades,
lacking military training in their schools,
trailed stupidly behind them,
waiting for the enemy to stop.
But the man in command (Tonatiuh)
didn’t raise his hand to signal “Stop”,
then the whole flock of Acaxualians
said to themselves that Tonatiuh
was a sissy.
Tonatiuh got angry
and told his men
“about turn”
to turn around and fight.
For he knew that the Indians
(big-nosed and cross-eyed)
were already far from the mountain
close by Acaxual.
And they turned around!
The bastards
began to strike out in all directions with
spear thrusts,
The Indians also
made a mess…
the brawl was such
that when it ended
not a single Acaxualian
was left alive…
But they clobbered
quite a few on the other side,
there were many
maimed and broken,
and among the multitude with arrow wounds
was Tonatiuh.
How gallant, how gallant!
The dying were saying:
virgin of the cave.
People say
that the comrade who cured Tonatiuh
was a very good person
because she did no end of things to him
so he would limp for the rest of his life.
And that is how it was,
his left foot
(the one for scoring goals)
became quite lame,
on the lucky limb
he had to use
a sole ten layers thick.
But up until around February
of the following year,
Tonatiuh was
almost pushing up rubber trees,
confined to his sleeping mat,
between his bed and his grave.
(R.I.P., alias WATER SUN)
for his hot blood,
but I advise him
next time

. . .

  • Pedro de Alvarado (1485-1541) was a Spanish soldier and “conquistador”. He accompanied Hernán Cortés to México but also explored/conquered Central America, eventually becoming governor of Guatemala. It was he who gave the country of El Salvador its name: “The Saviour”, as in Jesus Christ.  Tonatiuh was the name he was given in the Náhuatl (Aztec) language. It meant “Sun”.

. . .
Mercedes Durand, born 1933
from: Anecdotes, Chronology, and Obituary of Boots
He sat down in his chair
after watching
thirty thousand peasants die.
That night he had for supper
herbal soup
boiled pumpkin blossoms
and lemon juice…
He was a theosophist
and knew the fine points of witchcraft.
He put water
to settle in the sun
in pretty painted bottles
and wouldn’t stand for
the killing
of an ant
a mosquito
or a spider.
He never looked anyone in the eye.
He worshipped Hitler and Mussolini.
. . .
Alfonso Hernández, born 1948
The Republic of Power
Every year the dictator makes a speech to the multitudes
from his pragmatic throne – Peace Love Justice –
(as if history were an expedient of his base passions).
The dictator makes his speech,
the promise of new schools; a plan for putting an end to
hunger, illiteracy, and many other things;
and also an agrarian reform for those who have
rosy dreams, who view
life as benign.
Every year, as I have said,
with high honours he raises his funeareal hand to make
the sign of the cross
over hundreds of sickening corpses…
. . .
José María Cuéllar (1942-1981)
from: Childhood Stories
I was born in 1942 if for some reason my mother
has not lost her memory.
At age five I learned that thirty thousand peasants died because they were hungry.
It was then that I realized that
in my country to be hungry is a crime.
The village where I was born has a bad history.
They say that around 1798
an administrator from the Central Province
had these lands peopled by Spaniards
who, vaunting their lineage,
mounted Indian women and more Indian women
as if going through an endless train.
One of these descendants of the Cid
surprised one of my great-great-grandmothers bathing in the Copinolapa River,
and, with the brusqueness of a centaur,
made her the cornerstone of my family.
. . .
Claudia Lars (1899-1974)
from: Masked Men
I saw the masked men
throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
. . .
Wounded by machine-guns
the innocent one lay forgetting his fright
in his modest coffin.
Contemplating him,
I lost forever my seventy-year-old infancy.
. . .
Carlos Aragón (195?-1981)
My Friends
(in semi-syncopated flow)
Where are they? Where are they?
Where are my old friends?
Those from our little school
and those from the university…
Juan studied medicine
he enjoyed conversation
now he is somewhere in Europe
he fled from the social year…
Cecilia studied law
intent on changing things
now she has her lawyer’s office
and likes champagne…
Where are they? Where are they?
Where are my old friends?
Those from our little school
and those from the university…
Pedro is an economist
he has given up music
he has sold his piano
and now only knows how to add…
Antonio was a humanist
he used to like to draw
now he is a publicist
who is very quick to collect…
Where are they? Where are they?
Where are my old friends?
Those from our little school
and those from the university…
There was one we didn’t know
who liked the sea
– his name was Felipe –
he had clear and tranquil eyes
and his walk was serene…
Today the guns roared,
the sea has started to cry,
they killed the one we didn’t know,
the struggle has now begun…
Where are they? Where are they?
Where are my old friends?
Those from our little school
and those from the university…
Gary Mark Smith_1982 photograph of a victim of the civil war in El Salvador being carried home for burial_wrapped up in a hammock
Sonia Civallero, born 195?
In Memory of Comrade Juan Castro
The flower of San Andrés bursts open
while you,
Mario González,
Alexander López,
Juan Castro,
founder of the inn “La Bolsa”
coffee picker in Cantarrana
conductor on route 7
or seller of saints,
left your hunger hanging behind the door,
embraced the rosary of grenades,
greased your weapon
put on firmly the cap woven by your grandmother,
tied on your handkerchief to cover your face,
from your cheekbone to the tip of your chin,
and in a frenetic attack you tore up the stars
you ignited the minute of fury
you knew of unnoticed noises
you savoured the delights of battle.
your nineteen Januarys
died in the middle of a street…
. . .
Alfonso Hernández, born 1948
We were together at the federation,
we were ten young people, and
each one was talking about his experiences…
nobody was thinking about death,
death of a thousand faces.
But the fateful hour came,
and tens of policemen from the “Death Squad”
burst into the room.
Shots rang out immediately,
two comrades fell murdered.
We were unarmed, we had only a notebook.
We were bound, face down, and put into a Ford.
“So you are the ones who are going around saying ‘Fatherland or Death!’…Well, start praying because you have come up with death!”
We were eight.
On the way to Los Naranjos they made six get out,
and, tying them by the ankles, they bound them with strong ropes to a tree trunk;
their hands were tied to the bumper of the truck,
then they moved the truck off suddenly
and we heard the screams.
The six pairs of hands, bloodied,
hung from the bumper of the truck,
and the policemen were enjoying themselves.
Then they finished them off.
Only Raúl and I were left…
After a few kilometres they made us get out
with our hands still tied.
Raúl whispered:
“We are facing death and we must run any risk to escape…”
Those were his last words, and rapidly we dashed toward a precipice,
but Raúl slipped and was riddled with bullets;
he fell from branch to branch to the bottom.
I managed to steal away through the bushes…
. . .
Gabriela Yanes, born 1959
The Highways that Led South
The highways that led south
are now filled with corpses
the coffee plantations radiate a strange freshness
at night the dead
are absorbed through the pores of the earth
eventually they bloom as red coffee trees
(a cynical blackbird eats up the ripe guavas)
the earth is slowly tiring
of children sweet as figs.
. . .
José Luis Valle, born 1943
Reasons for Surprise
Threats. Blows upon blows.
Shadows and fears. Instabilities.
Repression and exile. One dictator after another.
From each dark spot: two stones.
At each street corner: three or more opportunists.
In each cafeteria: four or more informers.
I am still surviving. And that surprises me.
. . .
Ricardo Castrorrivas, born 1938
Theory for Dying in Silence
(to Francisco Gavidia)
[ hypocritical office rats cork men always afloat even
though the successive governments sink always looking
for a chance to have your photograph come out in the
newspapers and show it proudly in the neighbourhood
look at my eyes and see that I despise you for being
servile mediocre ignorant you who never learned to say no
why don’t you go away and leave me in peace take your
slobber and your flattery where they are well paid I want
nothing from you multiple men in the fraudulent elections
paid hacks when it comes to justifying a coup d’état
potential deviates lying racketeers get lost understand
the look in my eyes I want nothing why do you come contrite
today putting on airs saying that the supreme government
recognizes the meritorious work of a great man
and bring medicines medical books the keys to an
Institute of Housing house and also the reporters the
photographers the ladies of the Good Heart and I want nothing
look into my eyes look at me you think I am happy yes I
hear you that vicious old lady says she discerns in my
face gratitude and it is not true what I really want is for
you to go away study my eyes carefully I want nothing
why should I what I want is tranquillity to hell with the
glory the medals the esteem the parchments the prizes
the publication of my complete works the posthumous
homages the lifetime pension for my children to hell with
all that I tell you everything with these eyes that weep
from pure rage and you are saying that I weep from gratitude
you swine what I would really be grateful for is for
you all to go away leave me silence leave me silence ]
. . .
Nelson Brizuela, born 1955
from: Now that you are naked
These times have scarred poetry,
have stricken it with death,
and it can no longer be an act of peace
emerging from a common perspective.
Today it is written with
the need to bring to light
this way of looking at the world with wide open eyes,
this passing of the tongue over people’s wounds,
this wanting to stop the blood that runs and runs
like an eternally open tap.
John Hoagland_photograph from the early 1980s in Usulután El Salvador_Civilians fleeing...
Claribel Alegría, born 1924
Because I Want Peace
Because I want peace
and not war
because I don’t want to see
hungry children
or emaciated women
or men with silenced tongues
I must keep on fighting.
Because there are
Death Squads
and White Hand
that torture
that maim
that murder
I want to keep on fighting.
Because on the mountain range
of Guazapa
from their hideouts
my brothers lie in wait for
three battalions
trained in Carolina and Georgia
I must keep on fighting.
Because from armed Huey
expert pilots
wipe out villages
with napalm
poison the water
and burn the crops
that feed the people
I want to keep on fighting.
Because there are territories
now liberated
where those who don’t know how to
are learning to read
and the sick are treated
and the produce of the land
belongs to everybody
I must keep on fighting.
Because I want peace and not war.
. . .
Miguel Huezo Mixco, born 1954
The Day
The sun has already arrived
like a combatant.
Enthused I jump
from sleep
like a sword.
. . .

Translations from the Spanish were the work of Professor Keith Ellis of the University of Toronto Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies. Dr. Ellis has published several books on Spanish- American poetry, including the prize-winning Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén: Poetry and Idealogy.
We would also like to thank Between The Lines Books in Toronto, which brought out these poems, and others, in a collection titled Mirrors of War, published while El Salvador was still in the throes of its revolution and civil war (1985).
The original Spanish versions of the above poems were compiled in México in 1982, edited by Gabriela Yanes, Manuel Sorto, Horacio Castellanos Moya and Lyn Sorto, and published as Fragmentos de la actual literatura salvadoreña (Universidad Nacional de Querétaro, México, 1983).

More poems about El Salvador’s civil war:


. . . . .

Claribel Alegría: And I dreamt that I was a tree / I love to handle leaves / A Letter to “Time” / Autumn

Hojas de octubre_Toronto 2014

Claribel Alegría (Nicaragua / El Salvador, nacido 1924)
Y soñe que era un árbol – a Carole
Y soñe que era un árbol
y que todas mis ramas
se cubrían de hojas
y me amaban los pájaros
y me amaban también
los forasteros
que buscaban mi sombra
y yo también amaba
mi follaje
y el viento me amaba
y los milanos
pero un día
empezaron las hojas
a pesarme
a cubrirme las tardes
a opacarme la luz
de las estrellas.
Toda mi savia
se diluía
en el bello ropaje
y oía quejarse a mi raíz
y padecía el tronco
y empecé a despojarme
a sacudirme
era preciso despojarse
de todo ese derroche
de hojas verdes.
Empecé a sacudirme
y las hojas caían.
Otra vez con más fuerza
y junto con las hojas que importaban apenas
caía una que yo amaba:
un hermano
un amigo
y cayeron también
sobre la tierra
todas mis ilusiones
más queridas
y cayeron mis dioses
y cayeron mis duendes
se iban encogiendo
se arrugaban
se volvían de pronto
Apenas unas hojas
me quedaron:
cuatro o cinco
a lo sumo
quizá menos
y volví a sacudirme
con más saña
y esas no cayeron
como hélices de acero
. . .
Claribel Alegría (Nicaragua / El Salvador, born 1924)
And I dreamt that I was a tree – To Carole
And I dreamt that I was a tree
and all my branches – leafy –
were belovéd of the birds
– and of strangers seeking my shade.
And I too loved my canopy,
as did the wind – and the hawks.
But there came the day when
my leaves weighed heavily upon me,
they blocked out my afternoons
and the light of the stars.
My sap became diluted by
my gorgeous dark-green robe;
my roots were heard groaning
and the trunk of me, how it suffered;
and I began to dis-robe myself,
to shake loose;
I needed to be free of
that profusion of green leaves.
I really shook; and the leaves fell.
Again, more fiercely,
and more leaves fell – along with a certain one I loved:
a brother? friend?
And then there fell right to the ground all the illusions
most dear to me.
My gods fell, my charms, my animating spirits.
Dried up, wrinkled, completely yellowed.
I had hardly any leaves left, four or five at the very most;
and I shook again, in total fury.
The last of these leaves, no, they wouldn’t fall;
like steel helixes they clung to me.

. . .

Carta al Tiempo (1982)
Estimado señor:
Esta carta la escribo en mi cumpleaños.
Recibí su regalo. No me gusta.
Siempre y siempre lo mismo.
Cuando niña, impaciente lo esperaba;
me vestía de fiesta
y salía a la calle a pregonarlo.
No sea usted tenaz.

Todavía lo veo
jugando al ajedrez con el abuelo.
Fue perdiendo su brillo.
Y usted insistía
y no respetaba la humildad
de su carácter dulce,
y sus zapatos.
Después me cortejaba.
Era yo adolescente
y usted con ese rostro que no cambia.
Amigo de mi padre
para ganarme a mí.
Pobrecito del abuelo.
En su lecho de muerte
estaba usted presente,
esperando el final.
Un aire insospechado
flotaba entre los muebles.
Parecían mas blancas las paredes.
Y había alguién más,
usted le hacía señas.
Él le cerró los ojos al abuelo
y se detuvo un rato a contemplarme.
Le prohibo que vuelva.
Cada vez que lo veo
me recorre las vértebras el frío.
No me persiga más,
se lo suplico.
Hace años que amo a otro
y ya no me interesan sus ofrendas.
¿Por qué me espera siempre en las vitrinas,
en la boca del sueño,
bajo el cielo indeciso del domingo?
Sabe a cuarto cerrado su saludo.
Lo he visto el otro día con los niños.
Reconocí su traje:
el mismo tweed de entonces
cuando era yo estudiante
y usted amigo de mi padre.
Su ridículo traje de entretiempo.
No vuelva,
le repito.
No se detenga más en mi jardín.
Se asustarán los niños
y las hojas se caen:
las he visto.
¿De qué sirve todo esto?
Se va a reír un rato
con esa risa eterna
y seguirá sabiéndome al encuentro.
Los niños,
mi rostro,
las hojas,
todo extraviado en sus pupilas.
Ganará sin remedio.
Al comenzar mi carta lo sabía.

Hojas de octubre 2_Toronto 2014

A Letter to “Time” (1982)
Dear Sir:
I am writing this letter to you on my birthday.
I received your gift – and I don’t like it.
Always, always it’s the same thing.
When I was a girl, impatiently I waited;
got all dressed up, and went out into the street
to proclaim it.

Don’t be stubborn.
I can still picture you playing chess with my grandfather,
and at first your appearances were few and far between,
but soon they were daily and
grandfather’s voice lost its sparkle.
And you insisted on such visits, without any respect for
the humbleness of his gentle soul – or his shoes.
Later on, you attempted to court me.
Of course I was still young – and you with your unchanging face:
a friend of my dad’s with an eye trained on me.

Oh, poor Grand-dad…And didn’t you hang around his deathbed
till the end came!
The very walls seemed to fade out, and there was a kind of
unpinpointable something or other floating among the rooms.
You were that someone who was making signs and wonders,
and Dad closed Grand-dad’s eyes – then paused to contemplate me.

I forbid you to return…
Every time I see you my spine goes stiff – stop pursuing me, I beg you.
It’s been years since I loved anyone else
but your gifts no longer interest me.
Why are you waiting for me, in shop windows,
in the mouth of my dreams,
beneath a vague Sunday sky?
Your greeting reminds me of the air in shut-up rooms.
The other day I saw you with some kids;
I recognized that tweed suit, from when I was a student and
you were my father’s friend – that ridiculous Autumn tweed suit!

I repeat: Don’t come back, don’t hang around my garden;
you’ll scare the children and the leaves will all drop (I’ve seen it happen.)
What’s the use in all of this?
You’ll laugh a little, with that forever-laugh of yours,
and you’ll keep popping up.
The kids, my face, the falling leaves…
we all go lost or missing – in your eyes.
There’s no remedy for any of this: you’ll win.
I knew that from the moment I put pencil to paper.
. . .

Otoño (1981)
Has entrado al otoño
me dijiste
y me sentí temblar
hoja encendida
que se aferra a su tallo
que se obstina
que es párpado amarillo
y luz de vela
danza de vida
y muerte
claridad suspendida
en el eterno instante
del presente.
. . .
Autumn (1981)
You told me:
You’ve entered your Autumn.
And I shudder,
a leaf aflame that clings to its stem,
a yellow eyelid,
the light of a candle,
a dance of both life and death,
Open-ness hanging
in that eternal instant of the present.

. . .
Me gusta palpar hojas (1997)
Más que libros
y periódicos
más que móviles labios
que repiten los libros,
las revistas,
los desastres,
me gusta palpar hojas
y sentir su frescura,
ver el mundo
a través de su luz tamizada
a través de sus verdes
y escuchar mi silencio
que madura
y titila en mis labios
y se rompe en mi lengua
y escuchar a la tierra
que respira
y la tierra es mi cuerpo
y yo soy el cuerpo
de la tierra
. . .
I love to handle leaves (1997)
More than books,
more than magazines or newspapers,
more even than moving lips that recite from books, magazines, disasters…
how I love to handle leaves
– to feel their freshness,
to see the world through their filtered light,
through their green-ness;
and to hear my own silence
maturing – a-twinkling – upon my lips,
breaking against my tongue;
and to listen to the earth breathing.
And the earth is my body,
and I am the body of a land called

. . .

Translations from Spanish to English:  Alexander Best

. . . . .

Poemas para el Día de la Independencia: perspectivas frescas sobre Malinalli / Doña Marina / Malintzin / La Malinche – de los poetas Rosario Castellanos y Claribel Alegría


Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974, México)

“La Malinche”


Desde el sillón del mando mi madre dijo: “Ha muerto”.


Ya se dejó caer, como abatida,

en los brazos del otro, usurpador, padrastro

que la sostuvo no con el respeto

que el siervo da a la majestad de reina

sino con ese abajamiento mutuo

en que se humillan ambos, los amantes, los cómplices.


Desde la Plaza de los Intercambios

mi madre anunció: “Ha muerto”.


La balanza

se sostuvo un instante sin moverse

y el grano de cacao quedó quieto en el arca

y el sol permanecía en la mitad del cielo

como aguardando un signo

que fue, cuando partió como una flecha,

el ay agudo de las plañideras.


“Se deshojó la flor de muchos pétalos,

se evaporó el perfume,

se consumió la llama de la antorcha.


Una niña regresa, escarbando, al lugar

en el que la partera depositó su ombligo.


Regresa al Sitio de los que Vivieron.


Reconoce a su padre asesinado,

ay, ay, ay, con veneno, con puñal,

con trampa ante sus pies, con lazo de horca.


Se toman de la mano y caminan, caminan

perdiéndose en la niebla.”


Tal era el llanto y las lamentaciones

sobre algún cuerpo anónimo; un cadáver

que no era el mío porque yo, vendida

a mercaderes, iba como esclava,

como nadie, al destierro.


Arrojada, expulsada

del reino, del palacio y de la entraña tibia

de la que me dio a luz en tálamo legítimo

y que me aborreció porque yo era su igual

en figura y rango

y se contempló en mí y odió su imagen

y destrozó el espejo contra el suelo.


Yo avanzo hacia el destino entre cadenas

y dejo atrás lo que todavía escucho:

los fúnebres rumores con los que se me entierra.


Y la voz de mi madre con lágrimas ¡con lágrimas!

que decreta mi muerte.


.     .     .

El poema “La Malinche” – del poemario Poesía no eres tú (1972) – es uno de varios textos de Castellanos que revisa y reinterpreta figuras famosas femeninas.

.     .     .


Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974, México)

“La Malinche”


From her royal throne my mother announced: “She is dead”.


And then she collapsed, humbled,

in the arms of the other, the usurper, my stepfather

who sustained her not with the respect

a servant owes to the majesty of a queen

but with the mutual submissiveness

with which lovers, accomplices, abase themselves.


From the Plaza de los Intercambios

my mother announced: “She is dead.”


The scale

remained immobile for an instant

the cacao bean reposed quietly in its chest

the sun stood still in the sky’s zenith

as if awaiting a sign

which was, when it shot out like an arrow,

the penetrating cry of the mourners.


“The many-petaled flower has withered

the perfume has evaporated

the torch’s flame extinguished.


A girl returns, scratching at

the spot where the midwife left her navel.


She returns to the Place of Those who have Lived.


She beholds her father, murdered,

ay, ay, ay, with poison, with a dagger,

with a trap set before his feet, with a hangman’s noose.


Taken by the hand, she and they walk, they walk,

losing themselves in the fog.”


Such was the weeping and lamentation

over an anonymous corpse; a cadaver

that was not mine, because I, sold to

the merchants, went forth to exile like a slave,

a pariah.


Expelled, cast out from

the kingdom, from the palace and warmth

of her who gave honest birth to me

and who despised me because I was her equal

in figure and rank

she who saw herself in me and hated her image

and dashed the mirror to the ground.


I go, in chains, toward my destiny

and am followed still by the sounds

of the mournful chants with which they bury me.


And the voice of my mother in tears – in tears! –

that decries my death.



Translation from Spanish into English:  © Julian Palley, 1988



Claribel Alegría (nace 1924, Nicaragua/El Salvador)

“La Malinche”


Estoy aquí

en el banquillo de los acusados

dicen que soy traidora

¿a quién he traicionado?

era una niña aún

cuando mi padre

es decir

mi padrastro

temiendo que su hijo

no heredara las tierras

que a mí correspondían

me condujo hacia el sur

y me entregó a extraños

que no hablaban mi lengua.

Terminé de crecer en esa tribu

les servía de esclava

y llegaron los blancos

y me entregaron a los blancos.

¿Qué significa para ustedes

la palabra traición?

¿Acaso no fui yo la traicionada?

¿Quién de los míos vino a mi defensa

cuando el primer blanco me violó

cuando fui obligada

a besar su falo

de rodillas

cuando sentí mi cuerpo desgarrarse

y junto a él mi alma?

Fidelidad me exigen

ni siquiera conmigo

he podido ser fiel.

Antes de florecer

se me secó el amor

es un niño en mi vientre

que nunca vio la luz

¿Qué traicioné a mi patria?

Mi patria son los míos

y me entregaron ellos.

¿A quién rendirle cuentas?

¿A quién?


¿a quién?




Claribel Alegría (born 1924, Nicaragua/El Salvador)

“La Malinche”


Here I am

In “the dock”…

They say I’m a traitor,

Who have I betrayed?

I was just a little girl

When my father

(that is, my stepfather)

Fearing that his son

Would not inherit his lands

– lands to which I was entitled –

led me away to the south

And handed me over to strangers

Who didn’t speak my language.

I stopped growing in that tribe,

I served as slave.

And white people arrived

And I was handed over to them.

What does the word betrayal mean to all of you?

Wasn’t I the betrayed one?

Who of my people came to my defence

When the first white man violated me,

When I was made to kiss his phallus,

Down on my knees,

When I felt my body torn

And my soul right next to him?

Loyalty you demand of me

When I have not even been able to be true to myself.

Before blooming

I was already dessicated by Love.

There’s a child in my womb

who never saw the light.

In what way did I betray my homeland?

My country is my people

– and they abandoned me.

Who will account for that?


All of you, tell me – who?



Alegría translation from Spanish into English:   Alexander Best


La Malinche – born Malinalli, of Nahua parentage, in 1496 – was sold as a teenager by her mother and step-father to slave-traders – from whom she learned the Mayan language.  She ended up as one of many “gifts” to recently-arrived “conquistador” Hernán Cortés, in 1519.  She proved invaluable to him;  her knowledge of both Náhuatl (the language of the Aztecs’ Empire) and of the neighbouring Maya meant that she could interpret for Cortés in his dealings with officials of both Peoples, thereby gaining the upper hand for Spain.  Her fluency in Spanish soon followed, and in 1522, Doña Marina (her Christian baptism name, with the word “Lady” (Doña) before it) or Malintzin (as she was called respectfully by the Nahuas) bore a son by Cortés.  His name was Martín, and he is said to symbolize the first true Mexican, being “mestizo” (“mixed race” of white/amerindian).  Historians are in disagreement over the date of Malintzin’s death – 1529 or 1551.  At any rate, Cortés was an ambitious and greedy man-in-a-hurry and he did not remain with Malintzin;  yet she had been supremely useful to him – and to “el Imperio español”/The Spanish Empire, which was then in its initial surges of power.

Like The Virgin of Guadalupe La Malinche is a cultural icon in México – but unlike “Our Lady” she is also viewed negatively.

While she is seen as the “womb” of Mestizaje – the on-going union of different races and cultures – she is also, unfairly many contemporary scholars believe –  a symbol of the “betrayal” of Indigenous Peoples – the Mexicas, the Tlaxcalans, the Totonacs, the Chichimecas – the lot.

The flashpoint is her multilinguality:  ¡Traductora, traidora!  Translator — Traitor!

This is a great deal for one woman to bear.  And poets Rosario Castellanos and Claribel Alegría understand such a fact – so they have allowed Malintzin to “speak” in our era instead of only “interpreting” for others in centuries past…