In 1984, I went from being a gringo, of Spanish heritage, to living and working in Mexico. I thought my Spanish upbringing and speaking the language, would prepare me for the Mexican culture and it did not. I thought I understood “machismo” because it is ingrained in all Latin cultures, including: Spain, Italy and Greece. The following are observations and generalizations, based on my personal experience after three decades in Mexico. Most of my male friends in Mexico are not “tipico macho” (typical macho). And, for those friends, in reading the following: if the shoe or guarache fits – wear it. If not, then don’t be offended.
As a result of propinquity, my high school and college girlfriends were Italians and when I moved to Chicago, my closest friends were Greeks. I was fascinated by the fact, that among my Greek and Italian –American friends, their matriarchal upbringing gave privileges to males that were denied female siblings. Their sisters, who I wanted to date, required acceptance from their mothers and brothers. Somehow the father was excluded from such mundane decisions.
Among my Greek and Italian friends, their brand of machismo, like my Spanish upbringing, came with responsibilities. A leadership role and decision making privileges, that carried with it – a primary concern for the family’s well being. When my uncle Manuel was on life support, my father, the next in line of brothers by age, was the one who decided when, if it all, to pull the plug. His wife, who legally had the right to end his vegetative state, succeeded that right to the cultural norm of the eldest brother’s decision.
Mexican macho, in my opinion, carries privilege without responsibility. Their mothers and sisters act as semi servants. Bowing to the capriciousness of their male sons/siblings. One of my Mexican lawyer friends explains it this way: “I visit my mother at least twice a week for breakfast. I enter the kitchen and check the refrigerator, seeing there is no milk for my cereal. I complain to my mother, who immediately sends my sister, also a working professional living at home, to the store. She vigorously complains that she is late for work and that I should fetch my own milk. Mamma trumps her objections by flatly ordering – “ve por la leche para tu hermano”. My sister gives me “the finger” as she reluctantly exits for the milk. I laugh and say yeah, but hurry up with the milk”. My Greek, Spanish and Italian friends had special male privileges, but their primary responsibility was to protect not exploit their sisters.
My paternal grandfather was a womanizer. My father and all of my uncles and aunts were aware of the fact but hid same from my grandmother. She probably knew, but it was never discussed openly and she did not complain. Womanizing Mexicans are much more open about their amorous adventures. It is more than an acceptable standard of behavior, it is expected. And they practice it shamelessly.
A wealthy macho Mexican friend of mine (who leases a new Cadillac for his wife every year), recounted an experience he had visa via extramarital behavior: “I found myself, the only male, in a group that included my wife and several of her female friends. The other women began complaining about their womanizing husbands. Out of respect or embarrassment, my wife remained silent. One of the women finally asked, “Maria (not her name), why are you so quiet? You share the same problem.” Maria responded softly, “I have my cross to bare”. I immediately blurted – Your friends bare their crosses. You carry yours in the trunk of your Cadillac”.
This arrogant and cavalier attitude carries over into all aspects of Mexican life. Especially if you are a “junior”, the term used in reference to the sons of rich Mexicans. An attitude that the world is your oyster and that your family will cover your ass no matter how badly you mess up. This is not the exclusive domain for rich Mexicans. Even poor Mexican males grow up without suffering the consequences of their capricious behaviors. But if a crime has been committed, and the family has money, they will buy their kids out of trouble. Allowing the “junior” to act with even more impunity.
Mexico has one of the lowest conviction rates in the world for criminals. Corruption in the judicial system permits buying your way out of prosecution. Not much different than in the U.S., where money buys you the best defense council. However, in Mexico, the process ends with a payoff before indictment.
I don’t have statistical data to support my claim that women are more responsible than men in this culture. However, most of the families I know have responsible and capable female offspring; while the men are less likely to succeed academically, in a profession or occupation. Most Mexicans agree with me, that if you want something done get a woman to do it. This “irresponsible incompetence”, among far too many Mexican males, comes by being coddled from the realities of life.
Generations of Mexican mothers can’t seem to avoid instilling irresponsibility in their sons. Daughters, on the other hand, are expected to be disciplined, hard working and selfless. The Payoff for a Mexican mother is that she gets to keep “her boys at her bosom” forever. Mexican mothers don’t kick their “boy chicks” out of the nest. Robbing their sons of the opportunity to fly. They “clip their wings” by keeping them in the nest, with or without contributing to the family’s well being. Even if their behavior is destructive to the rest of the family.
These boy/men suffer only their mothers’ verbal reproaches without the consequences of “fending for themselves”. Too many grown men live off the family in Mexico. With obvious results: ineptness, low self esteem, depression, drug dependency and dead beat father hood.
After a lifetime career of working with businessmen and professionals, on both sides of the border, I believe machismo is the cultural defect that most impedes Mexico’s growth and success. An attitude of win- lose in business is typically Mexican. If, “I get over on you” that is ok because you should be more “cabron” like me. Being cabron (ruthless, hard and self serving), is respected in the culture. If you allow me to get over on you, then you are a “pendejo” (literally translated -a pubic hair), you deserve to lose. A doctor friend of mine, for example, tells me everybody takes advantage of situations. Stealing bed clothes and other supplies from the general hospital is standard operating procedure among his medical colleagues.
Mexican gay men have told me about experiences with macho men who pick them up in bars and have anal sex while insisting they are not gay. If they penetrate, rather than receive penetration, they can rationalize retention of their heterosexuality in the committing of a homosexual act. Another form of “cabron” referred to above, except in a sexual rather than business context.
Bribes in Mexico are common practice in gaining a personal objective. In politics, mayors serve a brief three year term without opportunity for reelection. This combined with the “I gotta get mine” macho impunity leads to big time graft while leaving the city bankrupt at the end of each administration. Mexicans expect their politicians to reward themselves, friends and family while in office. Major infrastructure priorities and much needed services, often lose to projects that are over priced and include kickbacks. My Mexican friends accept this type of corruption as inevitable and make jokes about it. Most Americans become indignant and find corruption in Government unacceptable. Mexicans simply shrug and say “ni modo” – unavoidable. Irresponsibility and exploitation is expected. A god given right to Mexican men and especially politicians.
The most obvious and immediate harm, macho men cause, is abandoning the children they foster. Mexican women expect that their men will be “rolling stones”. Their training of selflessness leads to accepting their plight of raising children alone. Justification is- “we are better off without the rogue father in our lives”. This is tragic and pathetic. And government addresses the problem with social services instead of prosecution.
There are child support laws but enforcement is almost totally lacking: resulting in an epidemic of indigent families without a responsible father to help provide support. Abused children universally have a higher risk of becoming abusers as adults. And, so it is with abandoned sons. They tend to perpetuate their father’s legacy.
I have hopes for the future fathers and mothers of Mexico. My Mexican friends are good fathers and husbands. I find the trend toward responsibility more apparent among younger Mexican men. Maybe this generation, of educated mothers, are doing a better job of preparing their sons for a future of success and contribution. Viva Mexico y a la chingada con machismo.