Growing up and living in an entirely different culture from our past generations can definitely be a shaky learning curve. Take it from me as a first-generation American born of Mexican and Honduran descent. The majority of people I was surrounded by during my developmental years consisted of foreign-born Latinos. The advice given by generations who lived and thrived in different social and political practices didn’t always translate to situations I faced in the land of the free.
Part of the disconnect came from a cultural focus on male dominance referred to as machismo. Many others may also recognize it as toxic masculinity. But what makes machismo so influential and frankly a bit frightening is that many older generations don’t recognize a problem. There’s a big gap of misunderstanding between the older generation and the new generation that grew up in a relatively progressive country.
There are pueblos in Mexico (and I’m sure in other Latino countries) where machismo is assumed and honored. Young ladies are brought up to believe that value comes from staying with a man and taking care of him through anything. This idea is so embedded in young ladies’ minds that it continues through infidelity, abuse and abandonment.
I’ve heard stories of women marrying the worst kind of man, the kind that leaves his wife to plant his seed in several other women, only to return and expect the same level of praise and love from his wife. The scariest part about this particular example is that women will not do anything to question this type of behavior. They are expected to meet the requests of their husbands.
Monica Gamboa, a pre-pharmacy student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, grew up in a Latino household and she explains how her family has faced machismo.
Even before she was born, machismo dictated her fate when her mother became orphaned. Gamboa’s grandmother was forced to abandon her young daughter so that she could accomplish her expectations and take care of her man in another city (I have to note that this man was also involved in a long term relationship with another woman).
This is where we see continued praise for men even though their actions don’t reflect praise-worthy traits.
Fast forward several years to Gamboa’s childhood where she recalls the expectations of her parents.
“My dad would always say, ‘You have to learn for your husband. What are you going to prepare for him when he gets home?’” Gamboa said.
Never mind the marriage expectation from a young age, but if we look at this expectation of doing things and learning things for the sake of a future husband, we forget that women can learn for the sake of learning and growing for themselves.
Now, up to this point I’ve focused on machismo and women, but it also affects men — probably a lot more than it affects women.
I grew up with a beloved brother in Kansas, far away from the traditional Latino world, but the traditional expectations of my brother followed him everywhere. I saw it from a different perspective but it’s hard to imagine the intense pressure of being a man in a traditional Latino context.
A video posted by We Are Mitú explains the unrealistic definitions of what a man is supposed to be and not be. In the video, Joey, Lucas and Andrew explain that something as simple as video games can lessen your value as a man. Some of the extremes they discuss include the impractical machismo advice centered around violence.
Violence is a common issue when it comes to machismo. There’s this idea that a man is a man with lots of strength and power. This idea isn’t necessarily the healthiest, or even the most accurate.
Shelby Shone, a graduate student at UL Lafayette, believes that much of the machismo Latinos face is similar to the toxic masculinity he faced growing up in the south.
“(Violence) instilled a very aggressive mentality in the household like a very ‘F— you to everybody because one of you is gonna hit me, so I’m gonna hurt your feelings,’” Shone said.
“That idea of how you’re defined as a human, masculinity was definitely in there. It was like ‘oh yeah, your toughness and your ability to defend yourself is a huge measure of you as a man or human in general.’” Shone said. “Not until college, really, when I started to more value empathy and kind nature traits that I need to learn.”
There’s so much more I can and want to say on toxic masculinity and more specifically machismo in the Latino community. This idea that narrowly defines men and women and their roles in society affects everyone. Starting the conversation is only the first step in understanding the issues of machismo.