One of the most prevalent characteristics of our Latino culture is machismo, which in history used to be about chivalry, responsibility and strength of character and has now evolved into tough-minded, individualistic, tough-as-nails mindset and approach of many Latino men. And while machismo has many benefits – including the strong sense of responsibility to care for the needs of one’s family, the strong work ethic even in tough work conditions and the determination to provide for one’s loved ones regardless of the obstacles – it also causes a lot of tension and issues in the family and within our Latino men.
It is well documented that many Latino men don’t seek medical attention even when sick. The mentality is that if I can get up in the morning and do my work, I’m healthy enough and my priority is my responsibility to work and provide, not to seek medical attention. That’s part of machismo. The same holds true for mental health and relationship issues.
Latino men feel like they can’t talk to others about their feelings or the issues they’re facing. Instead, they bottle those issues up and try to deal with them internally. When not dealt with properly, those issues often lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, depression and other unhealthy behaviors.
Men need to talk to others, particularly to other men, about what they are going through and seek social and emotional support. But machismo gets in the way. If you happen to have seen and read the fotonovela the Latino Leadership Council recently put out, you’re familiar with the story within—a father that talks harshly to his wife and disrespects her is faced with seeing his own son mirror his treatment of women and get into trouble. What you may not know is that the husband and wife photographed in the fotonovela are actually a real married couple and that the story in the booklet mirrors their own in many ways.
The husband in real life physically mistreated his wife, abused alcohol and incarnated virtually all the negative aspects of machismo. His wife sought help from the promotoras for her own issues and started learning more about self-esteem, improving herself and understanding what a healthy relationship should look like. As she started changing, her husband resented the change and was angry with the Latino Leadership Council for changing his wife and by extension the dynamics in his home. He came to one of her groups to complain. At first, he sat there quietly, fuming in his anger. Slowly, he started participating in the group, returning to each class and changing his life around. Talking through his own personal problems helped him understand and support his wife and at the same time improve his own life and the dynamics in the home.
He is so happy with the changes he’s now seen in his life, that he wants to help other men break through the walls of machismo and improve their own lives. So now husband and wife are working with the Latino Leadership Council to start a new breakthrough pilot program. The two of them are visiting couples who are living through what they went through. The idea is that the woman in the new couple can invite our fotonovela couple to visit. While the women talk, our reformed husband can pull the other man aside and slowly begin to engage him and share his own personal story. After a few visits we hope that the vulnerability exhibited and the personal sharing is reciprocated and the new husband can seek help and start healing as well.
Who knows, if this works as well as we hope it does, the men that are helped may in turn work with us to engage other men and together we can have a significant positive impact in our community. But this can only happen with the help of men like the gentleman in the fotonovela, who are willing to buck the norms of machismo and talk to other men about issues they are facing.
We’re excited about this new program and hope to share successful outcomes with you here. In the meantime, we encourage men reading this to take that step and talk more openly with other men. Latinos helping Latinos…now that is a practice that will take us back to the positive aspects of machismo and advance the health and wellness of our families.