Everyone is fascinated by and has a variety of interpretations of Mexico's "Macho Males." How interesting it is to discover that here, among those men, this title now describes a man who is strong and loving, who protects and provides for his family – instead of the heavy-handed disciplinarian we imagine. Enjoy this story – today and then read the conclusion of our Father’s Day Salute tomorrow.
In honor of Father's Day, we've gathered photos of Mexican fathers interacting with their children. In light of the macho reputation of Mexican males, I wasn't prepared for the behavior of Mexican men with their children—even in the modern times of the early 1990's. My image of machismo (macho behavior) hadn't prepared me for common scenes which included fathers taking toddlers to nursery school, carrying babies in religious processions and calming kids with skinned knees.
For centuries, fathers in Mexico's traditionally patriarchal society have controlled their families according to the expected male role defined by an old European family structure—machismo.
The Spanish settlers brought with them a concept of machismo that reflected a man's strength and character through excessive aggression, absolute power, sexual prowess, and lack of regard for women and children. The father or oldest male in the family was the major decision maker and demanded complete allegiance, respect, and obedience from his wife and children—even when his decisions determined their choice of spouses, career, or education.
Family roles were historically defined by enforced respect and fear. The father was dominant over his wife and children. He formulated a code of honor and demanded rules of behavior for the entire family. The sons learned from their father to be manly while protecting the virginity of their unmarried sisters. Daughters were demure, accepting, and obedient. Public opinion agreed it appropriate for the husband to have extramarital affairs but not to flaunt them, which would demonstrate a lack of respect for the wife. (Thompson & Walker, 1991).
(Left and Center Above:) Whole families walk in Lakeside religious processions. The children in the left and center photos are dressed to represent Juan Diego on the feast day which honors the Virgin of Guadalupe. (At Right:) A small daughter has a bird’s eye view of the event.
Meanwhile the wife remained at home, forbidden to work or to leave the house without her husband's permission. Her husband made all the decisions for the family, including daily household expenditures. She received just enough money each day to purchase the groceries. When she did leave the house to attend church or purchase food for the household, she was always accompanied by another female – a sister, aunt, cousin or servant.
In his study of Latino families, Madse (1993:20) drives home the total power and authority of Mexican men enjoyed a couple of decades ago by stating, 'Ideally the Latin male only acknowledges the greater authority of his father and God. In case of conflict between these two sources, he chooses to side with his father.’
(Left:) The demeanor of Ajijic musician, Tomas Hinojoso, reflects his respect as he chats with his elderly wheelchair bound father. (Center:) A father jokes with his daughters as they walk to the town plaza to met relatives and friends. (Right) Other male relatives sometimes take on the role of the father. Here, an uncle rides in a parade with his tiny nephew.
Historically, Mexican macho behavior has closely resembled the old machismo of the United States and other countries. In most ethnic groups and social classes, men traditionally dominated women and governed their families—on both sides of the border until the middle of the 20th century. Just as in the areas of transportation and technology, changes in male and female attitudes have come more slowly in Mexico than in the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, change here continues to occur as it has over the past 15 to 40 years—slowly, quietly—without protests or political disturbances.
Mexican men still expect to provide, protect, and make most decisions for their families. Many years after north of the border wives and mothers were comfortably adjusted to women's rights, most Mexican women were still not allowed to work outside the home until the early 1990s.
While modern-style machos still posture at the thought of a working wife and sometimes place restrictions on the terms of their wives' work schedules, husbands are adjusting and welcome, and acknowledge the need for her contributions to the family purse.
(Left:) Dad and the boys stop on a walk to the plaza for a session of tying shoes. (Right:) Even Abuelos (grandfathers) are getting into the action, spending time with the grandchildren in a way they didn’t when their own children were small.
These men started to learn gentle lessons of respect and honor as their mothers and aunts gained fragments of independence along with the few coins earned by taking in ironing or by making dresses. Today's wives, mothers, and sisters are continuing to teach Mexican machos new behaviors that are defining genuine machismo as a tender, courageous, and generous spirit able to give others dignity, generosity, and respect.
These days, men are the first to admit that their wives' income is doing more than providing a better education for the children and improving their living conditions.
Many village families are purchasing their first vehicles, televisions, washing machines, and computers. There is still more. In a complicated dance of give and take, Mexican men are learning a new way of leading their families—they are learning to share part of their authority and responsibility.
(Left:) Jose Villalobos, his friend Geraldo Rojas, and Jose’s son Pepe Villalobos play and sing – assisted by the younger generation of Villalobos boys. (Right:) A Guadalajara father takes his children for ice cream on a weekend trip to Lake Chapala.
A Mexican man in his 40's, an Ajijic native, recently stated it well. "The men of my grandfather's and father's generations were más duro (harder, more stern and difficult) than my friends. Now I can see that the younger fathers today, the new generation, are very different even from us. We've all changed a lot, we're easier now, we don't want our kids to only be afraid of us."
He paused, gazed into the distance and then continued, "The men in my father's generation thought nothing of beating their wives—they thought it was their right. Many of us started that way, too. I remember a few years ago when men would come to work and brag about how drunk they'd been on the weekend and how they'd hit their wives. We used to see it or hear it all the time; now we know it is a shameful thing to hit our wives and we want to show our kids a better way to live. It's all been changing these last years. We're better educated about a lot of things, and that is changing our attitudes about our place in the family."
Come back tomorrow – on Father’s Day as we report more attitudes from today’s Mexican men, Los Machismos Nuevos.