Deconstructing Machismo

Chronicle Features, San Francisco
RELEASE DATE: On or After June 20, 1997
LATINO SPECTRUM by Roberto Rodriguez & Patrisia Gonzales
Deconstructing Machismo

It is commonly said that men, particularly men of color, tend to be abusive, controlling and violent toward women and children. These characteristics are often said to be typical of a patriarchal, or "machismo," culture.

Jerry Tello, one of the founders of the National Compadres Network, a group of professional Latino men who work to instill positive values in young Latino men, disagrees. He says that to be abusive is not an inherent attribute of Chicano/Latino culture.

In Latin America, the word "macho" simply means male, and a true man is someone who carries respect, responsibility and honor. That's why when the Compadres (acting as 'co-fathers') speak to young men around the country, they tell them: "Let us guide you to be an 'hombre noble'--a noble man."

To be a hombre noble in the Americas in pre-Columbian times meant that you had earned the respect of the "huehues," or the elders. It required that you be honorable and a man of your word. It meant respecting sacred things and people, and that included women, says Tello. These are the concepts that the Compadres try to reintegrate into the lives of young men.

The Compadres Network aims to strengthen, balance and redevelop the traditional compadre extended family system. Through this process, members of the network create positive relationships with young Latino males, in their roles as fathers, sons, grandfathers, brothers and mentors. One of its founders, Angel Martinez, who is a Puerto Rican living in Northern California, notes that Latinos don't have a long tradition of organizations like "The 100 Black Men" to assist young males. However, Latinos can learn from Latina women, who have for a generation created models of success in their mentoring programs for young women.

As defined by U.S. society, the concept of "machismo" takes on strictly negative overtones. Being macho is considered synonymous with being a wife-beater, a philanderer, a drunk, a "bien gallo"--a fighter, like a rooster. This confuses young males, says Martinez. And some young Latinos fulfill this distorted definition of manhood by acting out a false manliness in response to living in a foreign culture where they feel emasculated by racism and a lack of educational and job opportunities.

The objective of the Compadres is to recast the definition of manhood in a positive light.

"Drunkenness, abusing women, raising hell (. . .) are some mistaken conceptions of what macho means," writes Rudolfo Anaya in the anthology "Muy Macho," (Anchor Books, 1996). "And yet the uninformed often point to such behavior and call it machismo. In fact, much of this negative behavior is aped by a new generation, because as young men they are not aware that they are being conditioned. Young men acting contrary to the good of their community have not yet learned the essence of maleness."

In early June, the Compadres launched a national two-and-half-year campaign to recapture what they say is the true spirit of manhood. The "Respect and Read" campaign will last until Dec. 12, 1999--the feast day of the "Virgen de Guadalupe." They hope to reach 100,000 young Chicano/Latino men and have two objectives: to make young men commit themselves to reducing the incidence of domestic violence by facing up to its existence, and to have Chicano/Latino men sit down and read with their sons, nephews or younger brothers. By reading to the young, these men play the role of elders and mentors, thereby planting seeds of knowledge and encouraging the younger ones to live noble lives.

Here are some of the indigenous principles, as interpreted by the Compadres, of what constitutes a "noble man":

"A noble man (. . .) is a man of his word; should have a sense of responsibility for his own well-being and that of others in his circle; he rejects any form of abuse (. . .) physical, emotional, mental or spiritual (. . .) to himself or others; should take time to reflect, pray, and include ceremony in his life; should be sensitive to understanding; should be like a mirror, reflecting support and clarity to one another; lives these values honestly, and with love."

The Compadres believe that creating a generation of men with strong noble character will reduce the incidences of substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, teen pregnancy and gang violence that plague our country.

These values are universal, ones that, if adhered to by all men, would lead to a new, humane and better society.

(Copyright Chronicle Features, 1997)

The National Compadres Network can be reached at: Jerry Tello 818-333-5033

Rodriguez is the author of Justice: A Question of Race (Cloth ISBN 0-927534-69-X paper ISBN 0-927534-68-1 Bilingual Review Press) and The X in La Raza II. Both are the authors of Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored (ISBN 0-918520-22-3 UC Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Library). They can be reached at: PO BOX 7905, Albq NM 87194-7905, (505)-248-0092 or

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