Dona Marina was a native to the area now known as Mexico. The people of modern Mexico view her as a betrayer, and a despised villain; conversely, the people of Spain view her as a hero. Known as the Mother of Conquest, and given the title "La Malinche" by Cortes (conquistador Hernando Cortez), Dona Marina served as a translator, guide, and source of knowledge for the conquistador. La Malinche is now synonymous with "the betrayer" in Mexico. Some historians view Dona Marina as the quintessential betrayer, but others view her as a glorious mother of conquest; both of these perspectives are equally true.

As a gifted linguist, La Malinche, a Mayan, learned the Aztec language from her Tabascan enslavers. Her Mayan heritage probably contributed to her resentment towards the Aztec empire; according to historian Alfred Percival Maudslay, the Mayan culture was the " highest ever attained by natives on the continent of North America" - La Malinche would have taken the opportunity to conquer the people who conquered hers. La Malinche originally translated between Mayan and Aztec, working as an assistant to the translator Aguilar, who knew Spanish and Mayan. While helping Cortes, she quickly learned Spanish in a matter of weeks. Translating directly between Spanish and the Nahuatl dialect of Aztec, La Malinche gave Cortes an advantage he did not previously have. Cortes used communication as a primary weapon; according to historian Jerome R. Adams, "Any interruption... in Cortes' line of communication could be fatal." Together, Dona Marina and Cortes could use the Aztec's own language to conquer them through trickery and malicious miscommunication.

Knowing the area well, La Malinche also served as a guide for Cortes and his men. She helped to find routes for Cortes army through the unfamiliar territory. She also used her language skills to seek friendly natives who would help them through the territory. Those natives who had been conquered by the Aztecs welcomed the presence of a conquering force - especially after they had been defeated in battle and realized that the Aztecs would be defeated as well. La Malinche helped Cortes to communicate with the natives, and made his relations with various conquered native peoples as smooth as possible. According to Adams, Cortes "had to negotiate with the particular community that lay in his path." La Malinche helped him to do this by becoming not only a translator, but also a fellow strategist, and by carefully manipulating the native peoples.

Cortes used the knowledge he gained through La Malinche to aid in his conquest. He led the Aztecs, and even their ruler Moctezuma (Montezuma), to believe that he was a diety after learning from La Malinche about the god Quetzecoatl, a bearded and white-skinned figure who would eventually return to retake the empire. Vital to this manipulation was her discovery that Moctezuma actually believed that Cortes could have been a deity. With the help of La Malinche, Cortes captured and imprisoned Moctezuma, which led directly to the conquest of the empire. La Malinche was the main aide to Cortes, and his conquest would not have been possible without her. In helping Cortes, she helped a foreign people and betrayed her own.

Dona Marina will forever be known as "La Malinche": the heroine of Spain, and the betrayer of Mexico. Ultimately, her help to Cortes was the death sentence for the Aztec empire, its people, and its culture; however, she could not have known this at the time. Although contrasting views of La Malinche exist, she should not necessarily be viewed by historians in a negative or positive light. What she did helped build one empire, while destroying another; to condemn or exalt La Malinche historically would be to succumb to bias and side with one of the two parties in a war that ended on land over 400 years ago, but lives on silently in the minds of the conquered and fading people.