Reflections on Hispanic Heritage Month, Machismo, and Intersectionality

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Is It Me, or Is It Machismo?

Hola, amigues! Happy start of Hispanic Heritage Month! Hispanic Heritage month has been recognized since 1986 and runs from September 15 through October 15. Did you know that it is the one cultural observance month that is split between two months, instead of just one? From September to October, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile all celebrate their independence days (read: the end of the Spanish colonization in those countries). But just like here in the United States, the effects of colonization were lingering long after independence was gained. 

There’s a lot of discourse online about the differences between Hispanic and Latino, with some confusion on which term should be used when. Hispanic refers to those whose heritage comes from a country that speaks Spanish, while Latino refers to those whose heritage comes from a country in Latin or South America. So if you’re Brazilian, you might identify as Latino but not Hispanic (given that the language in Brazil is Portuguese). And if you are Spanish from Spain, you might identify as Hispanic but not Latino (given that Spain is a European country). But the overall goal of recognizing and celebrating Hispanic culture during this month is to celebrate myriad subcultures, histories, and languages through countries in Latin America and South America (which were all colonized by Spain). 

You might have seen terms such as Latinx, Latine, Amigxs, and Amigues circulating the internet as options to be more gender inclusive. But let’s dive a little deeper into why this movement is so revolutionary. 

The Spanish language operates with a binary gendered grammatical form using feminine or masculine suffixes – and it’s often difficult to find a singular gender-neutral option to describe people or things. This distinct separation between the masculine and the feminine carries on in the culture of Latine folks. In Latine culture, there is this concept of machismo. Machismo is “the positive and negative aspects of masculinity, including bravery, honor, dominance, aggression, sexism, reserved emotions, etc”. To put it succinctly – machismo is toxic masculinity. Does that sound familiar? Yup. The patriarchy is so pervasive, it stretches across cultures and just digs its feet in and gets called Machismo culture. (And what do we do to Machismo? We smash it.) 

I recently heard of the #ItsMachismo trend that was circulating around Twitter in 2016 that gave real-life examples of the pervasive culture that Machismo played in the lives of Latine people (starting with Liz Cardosa from Guatemala). The examples given in this article and in the trend as a whole mirror a lot of the experiences people from non-Latine descent experience as well – assuming that women want to/are the homemakers, that women shouldn’t enjoy their sexuality, or that men should be the sole financial contributors of the household. And just like the patriarchy, people of all gender identities feel its wrath. Men are held to a high standard to provide for their families and not showcase their emotions. Women are expected to remain pure and obedient in performing all household duties (including having children and large families). The expectations are, at times, never-ending. 

It’s mind-boggling to me the deceptive nature that toxic masculinity has in its ability to transcend cultures. As an Afro-Latina identifying gay woman who is second-generation Puerto Rican, I wasn’t affected by machismo culture nearly as much as some of my friends or loved ones have been. But understanding the intersection between cultural identity and gender identity has been so integral in my understanding and salience of my Puerto Rican identity. 

My fiancée is a Venezuelan immigrant who moved to this country when she was just eight years old. Situating my own Afro-Latina identity within the context of our relationship, which is impacted by the Euro-centric belief systems of my fiancee’s South American Latina identity, has been nothing short of a journey. As we get ready to enter our marriage and start our family, we’re constantly being asked about who will carry our (potential) future children, if we’re both wearing dresses at the wedding, or if we’re going to let our careers take up so much of our time and livelihood. This right here is machismo culture in action. The existence of two women in a relationship does nothing to stop it. Machismo culture transcends gender identity and speaks more to the family systems that can or cannot be created and maintained. 

There are so many things to be celebrated about Latine and Hispanic cultures. Personally, my favorite part of being Hispanic is playing dominos and drinking pitorro with my family members at cookouts and making coquito during the holidays. My favorite part of building a life with my Venezuelan fiancee is being introduced to amazing new foods (hello Arepas and Tequeños) and being able to practice the language in my home. I’m so privileged to have the opportunity to share our deep and vast cultures with our children and our friends. 

To contextualize all of this information into practice in your workplaces, I have a couple pieces of advice. First off, take notice of any potential microaggressions towards Latine folx you might experience in the day to day. For example, maybe try not to assume that folx you encounter with a Spanish accent are unintelligent or must work in the service or housekeeping industries. Secondly, educate yourself about the racial pay inequities that exist for Latine/Hispanic men and women compared to their White counterparts. And lastly, if you learned something from this blog post – share with a colleague or your team! The more information that is shared about the variety Latine/Hispanic cultures and experiences, the more likely we can all take a part in ending machismo culture. 

¡Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana, mi gente! Ve en paz! (Happy Hispanic Heritage Month, my people! Go in peace!) 

What you can do to support your colleagues is learn more about this month. Here are some additional resources to geek out on: