“Él es mi macho.” A phrase that seems harmless and is in this respect. However, the same cannot be said when a man completely embodies what it truly means to be a “macho.” “Machismo” has been ingrained so deeply in Hispanic/Latinx culture that there are certain words in the language dedicated to describing it. The word “machismo” is defined as a strong or exaggerated sense of masculine pride. While there are some qualities of masculinity that can be seen in a positive light –– such as being strong, courageous and protective –– there are also qualities that can negatively impact others. Some examples of these are being dominant, lashing out and being the head of the family. These qualities have the potential to turn into behaviors such as verbal and physical abuse. All of these traits can be exaggerated by males if they are in an environment that encourages machismo. 

Machismo does not have a sole cause. Instead, it stems from various factors, such as cultural values and the psychology of the individual as well as their interactions with others. Psychologically, it is said that machismo is a result of an inferiority complex men have. The only way to satisfy their psychological state of insecurity or attempt to hide it is to react in an extreme manner in the other direction and hyper exaggerate the traits that should make them a man. The hyper-exaggerated traits of machismo are often learned from family and culture. Men in general, but especially Latino men, have expectations and assumptions in the roles that they should have in comparison to women. They are taught by their fathers and reinforced by the community that they must follow the expectations of being tough, self-sufficient and in control.  Many times, these expectations are supposed to be met from a young age. If they do not meet those expectations, they are considered “not manly enough.”

The expectations of machismo also led Latino men to suppress their emotions, causing them serious psychological harm. As a result of being taught from childhood that they are not supposed to ask for help, especially if they are not doing well, many Latino men are afraid to be vulnerable and honest. If they are vulnerable, it is seen as sacrificing their pride, which is heavily looked down upon in Latino culture. 

Another lens through which we can view this issue is from a cultural perspective. Familism is the construct of how relationships and attitudes related to the family are placed higher in significance over individuality. It is a core value that Latinos embrace and take pride in, as do I myself. Our strong sense of community is how our ancestors were able to go through burdensome times and trauma, and what allows us to continue to go through difficult times.  However, many times this pressure to be strong for our family can be too much for some, especially men. The expectation to be the protector and provider of the family, to be tough during adversities, while having to hide their struggles and pain, can be too much for them to handle. 

Another central value of Latin culture that has a connection to machismo is our strong work ethic. The members of the community are taught to always be hardworking and continue fighting even in the midst of adversities, because one never knows when they can lose everything and should never take their success for granted. However, many times we forget that it is important to know how to take a pause and take care of ourselves. The Latinx community also has a negative view of pain or being hurt. Many Latinos believe that feeling pain should be without complaint. Not only should one hide their pain, but they also should not accept or admit that they were hurt. However, admitting that one was hurt or in pain is a crucial first step to being able to heal and grow. Denying people the opportunity to understand their pain and heal creates deep and long lasting trauma, disproportionately for Latino men.       

Now I am in no way giving men who exhibit machista traits the benefit of the doubt. Exuding traits of a macho not only inflicts harm to the people around them, but also impacts the men who exhibit these traits. These traits can get passed onto the next generation and create an endless cycle of hypermasculine men hurting others.  We need to give Latino men the space in our culture to be vulnerable. Doing so is not only helpful for the men themselves but also to the people around them. The men’s relationships with themselves and their interactions with the people around them would be more honest, trustworthy, and healthy. We also need to change how Latino men are raised. Instead of placing men on this pedestal and making them feel like they should be superior, they should be raised to understand that they are equals with women. This provides them the ability to share the pressures, pain and struggles life gives us sometimes, while also remembering they are not struggling alone.  They should be raised in an environment that encourages balance and teaches them that it is possible to be open about their emotions and still be masculine. They should be raised in a culture that allows them to be both vulnerable and manly. Because it is possible to be vulnerable and manly enough.

This opinion piece was produced for the News’ Latinx Special Issue.

CHRISTINE RAMIREZ is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at christine.ramirez@yale.edu