Latin lovers or macho men?
Mexican men, like the rest of the world, get their ideas about American women from watching talk shows, soap operas, and movies. Therefore, they think we are terribly easy, unfaithful, and willing to hop into bed with any man who comes along. We all get divorced, none of us want children, and in general, we are all fierce feminists who wish to make life miserable for all men. We do NOT wait on anyone but ourselves. And, to top it all off, we don't like tortillas, and we have no tolerance for spicy foods or tequila.
On the other hand, American women also have their stereotypes of Mexican men. They are unfaithful (marriage does not mean monogamy), yet none of them ever want to get divorced. Instead, they prefer to cheat on their wives, neglect their kids, and openly carry on with their lovers, all the while trying to maintain the appearance of the perfect family. And Mexican men will never, ever, get up and do anything themselves if their wives are around.
When I started my relationship with Carlos, these stereotypes were what I was up against. Will he buy into that stereotype of American woman? Will he prove my stereotypes true? I couldn't help but wonder if the odds were stacked against our success right from the start simply because of false ideas and cultural conditioning.
Carlos, my boyfriend, has a professor friend who married outside of the Mexican culture. He has been miserable every single minute of his marriage, and cannot see Carlos without reminding him that if he does not marry a Mexican, he will be equally as miserable. "Find a woman who eats tortillas and chile," was his advice. I may not be Mexican, but I eat tortillas, and I love chile. It doesn't matter. I've never been good enough for this professor because I'm not Mexican.
My point in bringing this up, is that as American women, we tend to see ourselves as the ideal. What man would not want an American woman? Meanwhile, Latin men may be great lovers, but we are leery of them as spouses. Well, Latin men are leery of us, too. They are also worried about what kind of problems they might be taking on with an American woman. We can be equally problematic in our liberalism.
That said, I do have some opinions on cross-cultural relationships with Latin men. My first run-in with machismo occurred only weeks after Carlos and I started going out. It happened while living in a dorm in Madrid, Spain, where we met. Carlos had just taken a shower and wanted to dry his feet before he put on his shoes. I was sitting on the bed next to him. His towel was hanging on the door 5 feet away. Carlos said to me, "Pass me my towel." I turned to look at him and said in Spanish without skipping a beat, "I'm not your mother or your maid," and then I got up and got the towel. We were both speechless for a second or two, and then we started to laugh. I couldn't believe I'd said that, and neither could he since my Spanish still wasn't very good at that stage. It had come straight from the heart.
Normally, I probably wouldn't have reacted the way I did that day. But I had begun to notice tiny cultural differences. It's one thing to ask someone for a towel if it's right next to them, but I would never ask someone to get up and get me something I could get myself. My "line in the sand" has gone down in history with us, and it was good in a way, because it set the tone of the relationship right from the start. He knew from then on not to ask me to wait on him.
My first and only big fight with Carlos was over a glass of water, and the circumstances were similar to the towel story. I was trying to study for a test. Carlos was checking his email when suddenly he got the hiccoughs. After about 5 minutes of hiccoughing, I asked him to get up and get some water. I couldn't concentrate, and he was making no effort at all to try to stop. Besides, didn't all that hiccoughing hurt? After about 3 more minutes, he still hadn't gotten up. Again, I asked him to get some water. His answer surprised me. If I was so bothered by the hiccoughs, why didn't I get him the water? I asked him why I should get him the water if he was the one that had the hiccoughs and I was in the middle of studying. He then replied, "You should get me the water because you are my girlfriend." Wrong answer.
Until that moment, we had both been playing. I wasn't really upset or angry, and I probably would have gotten him the water after all. But when he made that comment, my fear of machismo jumped out at me. Maybe he wasn't kidding. Maybe he really did believe it was my job to bring him water simply because I was his girlfriend. I stormed out of the room to go get him the water, and he followed. By accident, I nearly dumped the water all over him, because by then I was so worked up. Then he got angry, and we didn't talk for a day - all over a damn glass of water.
Later we talked about the incident. I explained why his comment had scared me. I told him that it is one thing to ask nicely for a glass of water. It's another to tell your girlfriend to get you one because it's her job. He told me he was angry because I had acted so immaturely and nearly dumped the water pitcher on him. Then we laughed about it. He hadn't been serious. He didn't really expect me to get him water because I was his girlfriend. I believed him…but I told him not to joke like that again. And he hasn't since.
After that fight, we have never again had to address issues of gender roles. I relaxed. I and began to realize that I was picking fights because of what I was afraid he was like based on stereotypes. Yet I have to admit, Carlos is not typically Mexican either. Having lived outside of Mexico has helped him a lot in this respect. I think it's fair to say that as in any culture, Mexicans run the gamut of excruciatingly macho to unbelievably liberal. It's all about taking stereotypes with a grain of salt and finding the individual who is right for you. From my experience, here are some points I think it's important to consider.
- Education/Success Generally, the more educated and more successful your Mexican is, the higher the odds he will be accepting of having a successful, working woman at his side. I could never marry someone who would inhibit letting me pursue my career goals because tradition dictates otherwise!
- Age Mexican youth are worlds apart from older generations. For example, at the high school where I teach, I have not seen machismo at play. The number of male to female students is equal, and the girls are given the same opportunities and respect as the boys. Girls even want to be engineers…
- Region I think machismo in Mexico also very much depends on what part you are in. Here in Monterrey, with its proximity to the Unites States, excellent universities, and extreme wealth compared to other Mexican cities, there is more opportunity for women.
- Family I think the most valuable way for a woman to determine how her Mexican man will treat her is by looking at his family. Look carefully at his mother's role in the family. Carlos, for example, respects his mother a great deal. She actually wears the pants in the family. She has worked since she was 14 and is trained as a lawyer and a teacher. She raised three kids while working full-time. She also made sure that both of Carlos's sisters are educated so that they will never be fully dependent on any man for their livelihood. Personally, I see no problem with the role of women in his family!
- International Experience Many Mexicans have never left the country. I have found that with any culture or nationality, those who leave their homeland for a while always return more open-minded and have a great respect for how things are outside their comfort zone. They will also be able to understand you and your culture more easily.
- "Mamitis" This is an Oedipus-like phenomenon. It happens when an adult man is still in love with his mother. It seems to be a common problem in Mexican culture. A man who has lived on his own for a while battles with this less than the typical Mexican who lives at home until married.
- Laying down the Law Carlos says that a man will get away with what a woman lets him. This, for me, was interesting insight into how his Mexican mind ticks. Even though my towel story may be a bad example, I think it's important that you establish roles as soon as possible. Once you spoil your Mexican man by waiting on him, there's no turning back. Think carefully about what roles you are willing to take on or you may end up with them for the rest of your life. Also, I have found that Mexican men are willing to do chores around the house, but they are still a bit stuck in traditional gender roles. Carlos, for example, loves to cook, but apart from that, he sees inside house chores (ironing, sweeping, dishwashing, etc.) as women's work, and car/outside/repair work as men's work. Luckily I'm ok with this deal. I hate fixing things and don't know anything about taking care of a car, so I leave it to him.
On March 14, Carlos and I celebrated our three-year anniversary as "novios." We are getting married on July 14, 2003. Yet in the grand scheme of life, there are obviously people who know a lot more than I do about machismo and cross-cultural relationships. So who am I to be writing articles on the topic? I am just a girl who is dedicated and determined to make her cross-cultural relationship work. Please take my advice for whatever it's worth to you. But as far as I'm concerned, I've never been happier, and not a day goes by without me thinking how lucky I am to have found my man - a Mexican. And I think that's worth something.