Latinos (in an all inclusive historical sense) have been deemed by the American psyche as foreign, criminal, lazy, and fundamentally ”other”. This struggle is as old as the US, from the conquest of Mexico (the western half of the US) to the current mass deportation of refugees, children, and families from the [Latin(o)] Americas. Latino activists are consistently in the streets protesting the lack of comprehensive immigration policy, the racial/ethnic discrimination/profiling, mass deportations, and so on. From Cesar Chavez to Junot Diaz (thought they are two radically different types of activists), Latinos have been at the vanguard of issues when it comes to the racialized Latino identity that is (semi) unique to the US (it exists in Europe in a radically different way). We Latinos are intimate with the super imposed narratives white supremacy has placed on our histories and identities.
But for all the awareness of one system of oppression (Racism), many Latinos, especially (specifically) Latino men, are oblivious to other forms of oppression and systemic inequality.
To clarify. I am speaking about the group within the Latino and Latin American community that I embody. I am speaking of Latino (cis) hetero-normative Men (as problematic as this label can be, as I am not the spokesperson for this group, my embodied experience has afforded me specific insight). So whenever I say “Latino Men”, or use “we”, that is what I mean.
Latino Men are very quick to be critical of racism, however, whenever it comes to our Machismo (our cultural extension of global hegemonic patriarchy), rarely do we reflect and tell ourselves, “Oye, theres something very wrong about how we view (and subsequently treat) Mujeres”.
Growing up I witnessed Latino men raise their fists in protest against racism and simultaneously embrace Machismo and mistreat their wives/partners, daughters, sisters, and even mothers. We’ll march for immigration reform, but we won’t march to stop the pervasive domestic abuse in nuestras casas. Why do we care more about the death of our sons crossing the borders, but not the femicides in Juarez or Guatemala? How are we not up in arms about the 80% likelihood of girls and women to experience sexual assault crossing the border into the US? Why are we still adamant about controlling Latina women in every aspect of their lives?
This manifested itself while I was in New York this past September. A Latino Man (a friend of the family) came to visit la Casa, and he spoke to my Abuela and me for about an hour. We spoke about discrimination, the situation in Centro America, de todo. Then he said this,
“Es que ahorra la mujer no tiene respeto para el hombre. Ella quiere hacer lo que le da la gana, no como antes. No ves ahorra la mujer hasta puede demandar el hombre por violarla cuando ella quiere…” He kept on going.
One second he’s speaking about how we’re (all Latinos) being oppressed. The next he’s reproducing systems that oppress people we love. Aye, el hombre.
What he really meant to say was that Mujeres now are less about the “traditiocional” life that is embraced (still) in Latin America. What he really means is that Mujeres deciding to do what they want when it comes to their bodies, their sexuality, their education, their life, threatens his position in the social hierarchy in the Latino community. And don’t get me started with the whole “women can now accuse men of rape” comment. Dios Santo.
How can we we understand one system so well, yet fail to acknowledge another, sometimes intentionally.
This is especially true for Latino Men who have attended college and have graduate degrees (at least in my experience), or deem themselves to be progressive, critical, and/or revolutionary. They constantly post on FB and Tweet pieces on racism, mass deportation, police profiling of Latinos, but almost never pieces about the issues Latinas face. This silence is not always quiet. Those of us who do post pieces about the experiences of La Mujer in our community (or Women in general) in the US/Latin America are met with strong opposition by Latino men. There is disbelief, accusations of misandry and political correctness, and sometimes a herculean defense of Machismo.
Recently, I had a long winded debate about male privilege with some Latino Men who are friends of mine. All of us are in graduate school and I’d venture to say we all consider ourselves to be progressive. But trying to convince them about our collective privilege as Men felt like I was trying to defeat Cortez during la Conquista of the Americas.
Instead of addressing how oppressive Machismo is, I was contested with examples of racial discrimination Latino Men face as a more pervasive and “real” struggle. Then it went to how Mujeres have equal legal rights. I went on to address social and economic inequality, and was challenged on the premise that women are privileged, at one point being asked why mostly women inhabit child care service jobs and exclude men in the industry. Then it got to “women falsely accuse men of rape all the time” or “domestic abuse victims are men too”. Not that these aren’t issues, but my friends were adamant about either ignoring their privilege, and by extension, their Machismo, but also declaring they were the victims of systemic discrimination not only as Latinos, but also as Hombres. Again, they understood their own struggles against racism, but failed to acknowledge the narratives of women in our contemporary society, especially Latinas, when it came to sexism and gendered systems discrimination. I have had this debate too many times in the past several years.
This issue runs much deeper and older. Dolores Huerta called out the sexist attitudes of the movement Cesar Chavez led against the United Fruit Company. Junot Diaz addresses consistently in his books and activism how (Dominican) Machismo continues to hurt Latinas both in the homeland and the US. Even in films when the Latino question is addressed, our female Heroines are almost entirely absent. Growing up, I saw Latinas controlled in every aspect. The push for domestication. The hyper sexualization, sexual subversion, and sexual objectification of Latinas. Domestic violence was normalized, and “La Mujer” had to live through it as it was expected of her como Madre to endure all pain to keep her family intact (often times invoking imagery of La Virgen Maria and her endurance of watching Jesus be crucified). I saw abuse (physical, psychologic, and sexual,) run rampant in my community. Yet voices in opposition were always challenged, silenced, and quickly forgotten.
Porque? Because this was all part of the natural world. This was how it was meant to be. This is how we, Latinos, in both homelands, exist. Machismo has been internalized to such a degree that we believe it to be an intrinsic part of our humanity.
Paradoxically, that is what the white man tells us when we call out the lie of white supremacy.
For now. Ahi lo dejo.
P.S. – I am not exempt from embodying, (re)producing, and benefiting from Machismo. Only because I am aware of its existence and effects does not mean I do not somehow perpetuate it. I do not deserve any recognition in trying to address Machismo, as the struggle to break down these systems is a messy one. All I am highlighting here is that it takes more than recognizing Machismo to dismantle it as a system and that it has yet to be fully recognized by many Latino Men, and often times we defend it.
P.P.S. – The next related post will be a direct address to Latino Men (in how to get our shit together).