Overcoming Machismo – Mexican Fathers Part 2

by Judy King 20. June 2010 14:28

For our two-day Father’s Day tribute, yesterday we took a beginning look at what many foreigners expect the Mexican Macho to be and began exploring how the concept of the Nuevo Machismo is changing attitudes, behaviors and beliefs in today’s Mexican family.  

fathers-breakfast In Walking Stars, Stories of Magic and Power, second generation Mexican American and California author Victor Villaseñor retells the lessons his then seven-year-old father learned while recovering from the nearly fatal injuries he received from the pack of dogs that protected a neighbor's property back in Mexico. As the youngest child of the family, the boy was goaded by the other children into the orchard of the neighborhood "witch" to steal peaches. While the severely injured child was recovering, his mother shared with him her ideals for the man she wanted him to become.

"I've been raising you to be a gentle man--not a lost male who destroys all he lays his hands on because he feels so left out of the joy of giving birth.

"Mijito, (my little son) you must promise me to never do such a thing without consulting me first. You've become a little man, mi hijito, and a man always needs a woman's opinion in order to round out his decisions—like the broken rocks need the river waters to smooth out their rough edges and make the rocks smooth and round and whole. Believe me, no man's decisions are complete without a woman's influence. And no woman's garden can give life without a man's participation."

 fathers-charro clip_image004
(Left) the Mexico Charro Federation upholds the tradition of the protection and preservation of home and family along with their rules and regulations for horsemanship. (Right) The San Juan Cosalá coach of the children's dance group is a powerful and positive father figure.

An Ajijic friend recently proclaimed, “These days, men and women, we’re all changing each other.”

His compadre added, "That’s right, it isn’t just a matter of men changing. The women of our generation and the next have changed, too. Now that they are working, they have had more experiences, more options, and more power than our mothers, so they demand more respect.

“That's been a little hard for us. They want us to change even faster and they are so different from our mothers and aunts and grandmothers.

"Friends have told me that when they are angry, now their wives say, "Don't you hit me, not even one time. I'll be out of here. I'll leave and I'll go to my family. If you try to come get me back, I'll report you to Derechos Humanos (the office of Human Rights).

 fathers-plaza fathers-street fathers-priests

Through television, the church, and the school, human rights and non-violent family campaigns are underway which are designed to effect even more change. The campaigns are promoting ideas and attitudes among children that will help make the next generation of men increasingly fair and just, with greater interaction with and love for their families.

When I asked an older Lakeside man if he'd seen men's attitudes changing, he said, "It's all so different now, but I like how it looks. When my children were little, men didn't take care of babies or even small children. We were macho, and we lived more separate from our families. I wish I had touched my kids more, and kissed and hugged them more. I can see with the younger men that they have a better connection to their kids.

"In my mother's generation, the women were like slaves to our fathers, and they made sure the dinner was on the table when he walked in, but it was from fear. With my generation, I think our wives did those things from love and respect, we were more like friends with our wives, and we did things together and went places. Now, my children and their wives are partners. They share in their lives and make decisions together. I like how it looks."

Not all the news about the change in Mexican families is as positive. Francisco Cervantes, an adult education teacher, is working to positively redefine the concepts of masculinity, fatherhood, and power in family relationships. His articles, talks and seminars help men by providing a new image for the macho Mexican male, yet he also is discovering some downturns in the mindset.

In a recent article, he says, "The Mexican man has exercised masculinity and paternity in an authoritative way for centuries, creating tension in married couples and the family as a whole. Men have been able to reconcile this behavior with the role of provider inside the home, but this family structure has had many negative ramifications in the well-being of their partners and children.

"Daily life in Mexico is changing considerably, to the point where men do not always play the role of the provider, and thus have fewer reasons to exercise authority. At the same time, women have become involved in the social and economic life of the country, and children too are now more independent. Frustration at the loss of their traditional role often leads men to physical and emotional mistreatment of partners or children. "

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(Left) Like many other Lakeside foreigners, American singer Glenn Yarbrough (“Baby the Rain Must Fall”) interacts with kids in his Lakeside neighborhood. (Right) The little ones enjoy a ride home with dad on the family burro.

Jerry Tello is a writer, a builder and healer of communities. Tello builds pride with blocks created from the history and culture of Mexico. "In our history, we have created more elements than any other civilization. Our ancient people understood astronomy, astrology, hydroponics, chemistry, and biology so the possibilities are there," says Tello.

Tello, a Mexican-American who lectures throughout the U.S., has written extensively—publishing everything from curriculum training manuals and commissioned papers to articles in Parent Child Magazine, Early Childhood Today and Low Rider Magazine. He has been featured in Newsweek, Time, and People magazines. Recently he related his own experiences with his father:

"My father taught me that my first obligation in life is to my mother and that fatherhood for all of us is first and foremost about honoring women—our mothers, our children's mothers and all mothers."

"Sometimes the notion of machismo is mistakenly viewed as supporting authoritarian and paternalistic behavior, but in reality machismo is about being responsible and honorable and about protecting women—not abusing them.

"In our culture being bien educados (well-educated) is not about schooling so much as it is about wisdom, about knowing and doing what is right and honorable, and about accepting responsibility for the community."

We certainly raise our glass to Mexico’s Nuevo Machismo, and also to our own father, grandfathers, uncles, and to the father of our children (some of whom followed their own brand of machismo):  Fritz, Charles and M.P., Bob, Chet, Bar, Bob, George and Dean; and David  -- thanks and love to you all and to the lessons you taught us.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

A Memorable Mexican Love Story

by Judy King 12. February 2010 00:01

 It’s Valentine’s Day weekend – here in Mexico the day of hearts and flowers takes on another facet of love . February 14 is El Día de Amistad y Amor (the Day of Friendship and Love).

It’s the perfect time to share with you the love story of my  friends and my favorite extended Mexican-American family, the Villaseñors. While we’re at it, let’s ask my connection  to this family, Victor Villaseñor, if he will honor us by being our Valentine. Honoring him on Valentine’s Day is the least we can do for him; he’s devoted so much of his life ensuring we get to know and learn from his family.

In the nearly 20 years that I’ve known and loved the Villaseñors I’ve learned so much about Mexico and how Mexican families live, love and interact. I think of the various members of this family so often; I smile remembering the stories of their escapades, and a grieve a bit as I remember the old ones who are gone. 

sal and lupes wedding

These folks live so vividly in my mind and heart that sometimes I forget that my connection to them is through the stories that California native Victor Villaseñor has recorded and told in a series of books beginning with his 1991 best -selling triumph, Rain of Gold,  in which we met and fell in love with Victor’s Mexican parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

RainofGoldDon Victor continues telling the family stories in Wild Steps of Heaven and Thirteen Senses. He tells the story of his own angry adolescence and how he found his way in Burro Genius.

In 2009 HBO planned to begin filming the rich story of this family as recorded in these books  for a 10-hour mini-series. Strikes and lay-offs have delayed the production; Don Victor hopes that the mini-series will be completed in 2010. (You can help get this project back on track by sending emails and letters to HBO. Find the names and emails of the appropriate HBO officials at Don Victor’s website.)

Finally diagnosed with severe dyslexia at age 44, Don Victor had failed third grade, twice, and was belittled and battered by teachers simply for being Latino and for speaking  Spanish, the language he’d heard at home. Finally as a  frustrated and angry teenager, he dropped out of school and fled to his father’s birthplace in Los Altos (the highlands) of Jalisco. There as he met old family friends and relatives, he  heard again the stories he had considered just legends and his father’s far-fetched imaginings. 

Realizing the truth in the reporting of these other storytellers, he began a journey to regain pride in his Mexican heritage and finally in himself as his own storytelling unfolded and revealed his extraordinary talents. 

Villasenor1In a recent video, Don Victor confirmed the need of all people to know their family stories, saying, “Once you have roots, you can’t be destroyed, not anymore.”

Don Victor (with a file of 265 manuscript rejection slips for other material) turned down Putnam’s 1990 $175,000 advance for Rain of Gold when they insisted his family autobiography be published as fiction. His decision was reinforced when he was surprised by a late-night phone call from a stranger who said, “As long as our stories are considered fiction, we’ll continue to be held back without respect.” As their conversion continued, Roots author Alex Hailey encouraged Villaseñor to print the book through Arte Publico Press at the University of Houston.

USA Today’s January 1992 Rain of Gold reviewer got it—the importance of family stories: :

The story begins at the time of the Mexican Revolution, in 1911, with a 6-year-old girl named Lupe. She will, in later life, be Villaseñor's mother. Beset by poverty and banditry, her family slowly painfully, makes its way north. The United States seems to promise security and adequate food. Meanwhile, in another Mexican state, the family of 11-year-old Juan Salvador is also struggling northward. For both families, the only resources to carry them the distance and across the border are determination and wits.

Once in the United States, the struggle is different and even greater. Villaseñor's tale includes gambling and bootlegging, crime, prison and escape, young machos and younger maidens, love, revenge, births, deaths, and the countless twists and turns of chance that eventually bring Lupe and Juan to the altar.

These lives pose the great American dilemma: how to become something new and yet retain all the wealth of one's past. Villaseñor re-creates them with vivid passion in a rough-hewn voice that is as honestly American as it is genuinely Mexican. And the family photos he includes look just like the ones in my own closet.

Villaseñor's grandparents came from the mountains of Jalisco and the jagged barranca country of Chihuahua. My grandparents came from the back streets of Copenhagen and Dublin. But Villaseñor has written my family history, too. And yours.

Rain of Gold is one of the best - and most American - books of this or any other year.

We’re sure that Putnam noticed when Rain of Gold not only hit the New York Times Bestsellers list, but also earned the author a Pulitzer Prize nomination and then when rights were purchased by HBO, as well as when Thirteen Senses was printed 10 years later by Rayo, a HarperCollins imprint.

Sal and Lupe 50th Thirteen Senses begins in the living room of the large Oceanside, California, ranch house Salvador has built for his family. It’s 1979 and Lupe and Salvador are renewing their wedding vows on their 50th anniversary. All proceeds according to plan until Lupe unexpectedly  stops the service, refusing to repeat the word ‘obey.’ After a bit of  negotiation she agrees to vow to “”love and cherish,” the  words repeated by her husband. The priest, disconcerted by a simple reaffirmation of vows gone astray, asks the 75-year-old Salvador if he’ll agree to this slight departure in the ceremony. His response reflects the tone of this family and of their long relationship for the reader:

”Look, “he said, turning to the priest, “I know you’ve never been married, Father, so you really don’t understand what is going on. But believe me, to tell any woman, who’s alive and breathing, that she must obey is so ridiculous that only men who’ve never married in one hundred generations would have come up with such an ignorant idea! Of course, she doesn’t have to obey me! She never has in fifty years, so why in hell would I be stupid to think that it is going to be any different now?”

When Wendy L. Smith reviewed Thirteen Senses in the San Diego Union, she wrote: 

If, as one critic said, Victor Villaseñor’s 1991 Rain of Gold made one feel “like a family member quietly watching from a corner stool,” then Thirteen Senses gives one the feeling of dancing at a loud, loving party, full of lusty shouts, singing and gifts of food. With the sensual volume turned way up, Thirteen Senses makes Rain of Gold seem tentative in comparison.

“Was it love?” are the book’s first words. The rest of the book is a yes that resounds from the heavens as if answering all questions. This portrait of the early married life of the author’s parents, Lupe and Salvador, is a study in passion. However, Villaseñor does not satisfy himself with a narrow definition of romantic love; Thirteen Senses considers love of God, of children, of nature, of one’s people. Even greeting Lucifer with love is not out of the question.

Villaseñor so values his ancestors’ lives and philosophies, as well as the strength of a good story, that his charming, colorful and powerful renderings become monuments to his heroes. He takes his father’s words to heart: “a good story could save our life.” The proof is his people, survivors of tragedy, oppression and racism – culture and sense of humor intact.

V V at gate  Not only can you read about Victor Villaseñor’s family in his books listed on his website, you can become his friend on Facebook. Be sure to watch the videos on his page – in his delightful storyteller’s way, he’ll tell you why goats are better than horses, cows or pigs, and how his father determined the size of the Oceanside house (it had to be built bigger than cowboy star Tom Mix!). You’ll enjoy watching him tell other stories about his parents and the family home and learning about his effort to transform the celebration of Thanksgiving into a world-wide celebration of peace.  

Lake Chapala residents: Rain of God and Thirteen Senses are in the Mexico Collection at the Lake Chapala Society Neill James Library. All of Victor Villaseñor’s books are available on Amazon and other popular online booksellers and from your local bookstores, in English and in Spanish. 


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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