for Gerald L. Davis, 1941–1997
One of the most misunderstood terms in the English language is the word macho. What does it mean? To whom does it refer? And, does macho carry a definition in the U.S. that is different from the rest of the Americas? The anthology Muy Macho: Latino Men Confront Their Manhood grapples with some of these questions and others that surround Latino masculinities. Edited by Ray González, the collection is the opening salvo in the long overdue critical dialogue about Latino men and masculinity. The text offers analyses of masculinity in Latino communities, stories about fathers, sons, sexuality, violence, and also stereotypical delineations of “real” men. Not without its problems and imbalances, Muy Macho reflects the haphazardness of the debate today, ranging from the sharp clarity of individual self-disclosure to refutations and reaffirmations of the macho stereotype for Latino masculinity.
González, a writer, poet, and award-winning editor of over a dozen anthologies, compiles the essays and stories of sixteen Latino creative writers from a variety of cultural backgrounds—Cuban, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Guatemalan, and mixed-race Latinos. According to González, Muy Macho “is the first book by Latino male writers to address how they see themselves as men within the concept of what it means to be [End Page 203] ‘macho’—the catchword for Latino adult manhood” (xiii). Several of the contributors address the misconceptions within the stigmatizing label and how it has been used to pinpoint Latinos as the poster boys for sexism and violence. As anthropologist Matthew Gutmann states, “Machismo has been associated with negative character traits not among men in general, but specifically among Mexican, Mexican American, and Latin American men.” 1
All original contributions (except one), the writers thus refute, with mixed success, the macho label, as well as add to its dimensions by providing literary alternatives to its negatively charged definition. González writes, “To have Latino men write about their fathers, sexuality, and the cult of silence between men is a literary task taking place for the first time” (xiii). However, although the text claims to be a first, in the sense that it attempts to address a topic that is textually and perhaps socially avoided on any significant level, we must be critical of how deeply it plumbs the depths of Latino masculinities, and how it affects the discourse on gender. As such, a text that mentions the mostly unmentionable within Latino communities should be applauded for breaking ground, but should also be held up against critiques of how well it engages the complexities of Latino masculinities. In other words, it is not fair to ask this anthology to resolve the problematics of patriarchy, sexism, and to fully chart the terrain of Latino masculinities, but it is imperative to critique those instances when stereotypes of macho Latinos are ruptured, and when such static representations are reaffirmed.
One of the significant tasks of Muy Macho is to identify a specifically Latino manhood, one that recognizes the diversity of Latino cultures, yet also identifies how Latino masculinities differ from (and also sometimes parallel) conceptions of white manhood. As contributor Omar Castañeda writes, “Machismo is complex and multifaceted and, too often in Anglo-American interpretations, reduced to self-aggrandizing male bravado that flirts with physical harm to be sexual, like some rutting for the right to pass on genes” (37). Furthermore, according to González, “The question of whether Latino males are different than other men in America is one of the central themes of this book” (xiv). As such, as an ethnic-specific book about men, the Latino writers address their cultural differences that affect both their socialization as men, and how this construction interacts with the dominant perception of Latino manhood. Catholicism, relationships with women, language issues and barriers, histories of immigration and [End Page 204] exile, and diverse cultural practices are posited as central to the construction of manhood.
The exploration of cultural difference serves to augment, and sometimes...