Machismo and the Latino Father

Machismo is synonymous with Latino males. It’s the drive to work hard, care for our families and strive for a better future. Unfortunately, machismo also has a dark side that permeates our culture and subjugates many into lesser roles, diminished freedoms and a reduced sense of self-worth. During this Fathers’ Day, let’s celebrate Latino fathers everywhere, but also use it as an opportunity to reflect on the role machismo has in the family and how fathers are the key to embracing the good elements and discarding the detrimental aspects of this cultural trait.

Dan Beltran is one of the many community leaders that partners with the Latino Leadership Council to provide outreach to Latinos living in Placer County. Dan recently organized and held a conference for Latino males, particularly fathers, in Lincoln to address this issue of machismo. More than 30 Latino fathers participated in the 2-day Viviendo Una Vida de Poder (Living a Life of Strength) May conference to discuss how machismo affected their relationships with their spouses and children.

During the conference, Beltran touched on many of the negative traits that stem from machismo, such as jealousy when the spouse interacts with other men, the inability to share feelings and vulnerable thoughts with loved ones or the way we interact with our children.

Machismo, according to Beltran, is motivated by two things: love and fear. The machismo that is not healthy, is the one rooted and motivated by fear. “It turns out that men have fears and insecurities we’ve never dealt with,” says Beltran. “So we hide behind machismo.“ As kids, Latino boys are taught to suppress emotion, to not deal with things or resolve emotional issues. Those negative emotions build up. As we grow up and are faced with life’s many challenges, we begin to fear failure and death. Will I lose my job? Will my wife leave me for another man? Will I die alone? We have not been equipped to deal with these fears and insecurities in a healthy way, so we lash out. Many husbands don’t allow their wives to get a job, learn English or even talk with men outside of the house. Why? Some may say machismo, but, as Beltran would point out, it all comes back to that fear. Fear is at the root of all the negative incarnations of machismo.

This fear robs us of intimacy with our spouses and children. It keeps us having to use force and intimidation to shield us from what we’re afraid. Ultimately, it imprisons those we love and denies them their own self-actualization.

But how can we get rid of these destructive elements of our culture without actually destroying our culture in the process? “We have a beautiful culture,” says Beltran. “However, many of the things that are in our culture are not always healthy. There needs to be moderation. For example, tequila is part of our culture, but to drink a whole bottle is not healthy. Machismo creates honor and respect, but machismo rooted in fear destroys our families.” Therefore Beltran urges our community to build on machismo that’s based in the sense of accomplishment. Celebrate success, hard work ethic and responsibility to family. All those elements bring families together without minimizing or imprisoning loved ones. Understand what our fears are and how we displace these fears by lashing out on others. Learn how to deal with those fears, speak openly with others and seek help when needed.

Beltran has great stories of success following his two-day seminar. He tells of a father who, after realizing that his machismo kept him from expressing his feelings to his family, texted “I love you” to his son. Of course, after receiving the text, the son was absolutely worried that something was awry and reached out to other members of his family to see if something was wrong with dad. Within a short span of time, the whole family was completely worried that something bad had happened…why else would dad have sent that message to his son? All those years, communication and sharing of emotions had been stripped from the dynamics of that family, to the point that a simple expression of love sent the family into a tailspin. This emphasized to the father how much had been missing in his home life for years and strengthened his dedication to change the way he interacted with his family.

Beltran’s seminar is changing lives. But there’s still a lot of work to do within our community. We need to honor fathers, show them the respect they deserve and help them understand that they can let go of their fears. Let them know that they are loved and respected for who they are…and that familial love is the essence of machismo.

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