Book Review: Muy Macho

What does it mean to be a Latino man?

Machismo as a concept proves difficult to pin down.  Stereotypes and generalizations muddy the water.  Angry, silent, violent, passive, aggressive, unpredictable, passionate, virile, tough, domineering, swagger, hyper-masculine.  You may find these qualities in Latino men.  You may find these qualities in men of any ethnicity, from any background.

Ray Gonzalez gathered 16 essays reflecting on Latino masculinity and published them in Muy Macho.  You'll find the essays filled with honesty, powerful images, and tough stories.  The men talk about their childhood, their mistakes, how they've tried to come to grips with machismo and the men's movement.

Some things I loved in Muy Macho

In these essays, Latino masculinity was imaged and described in terms of personal history and relationship.  Latino men are what they are in community, in familia.  And the community deeply impacts the way machismo gets expressed. 

This way of talking about masculinity contrasts with Anglo authors whose reflections on masculinity echo throughout the evangelical landscape (Bly and Eldredge and, to a lesser degree Miller).  The Latino essayists don't reach back through ancient history or abstract definitions or even pay much attention to big sociological trends.  Their focus is more narrow, more personal, reflecting the communal values of our culture.

Most of the struggles and fears these men wrote about had to do with relationships.  More narrowly, they focused on fatherhood.  Their fathers.  Their sons.  Martin Espada's essay "The Puerto Rican Dummy and the Merciful Son" especially captured this focus, memories of watching his father, awareness of his son watching him.

I also found fascinating the essayists' insights into displacement and its influence on Latino men.  Isolation, exile, a desire to fit in, a refusal to assimilate ... these themes weave throughout the essays, a bass line holding the song together.  Omar Castaneda's "Guatemalan Macho Oratory" highlights the dissonance between macho speech and Anglo speech.  Jack Lopez' "Of Cholos and Surfers" tells a second-generation story of cultural conflict.  Ricardo Pau-Llosa's "Romancing the Exiliado" captures the relational dysfunction (and opportunities) created by displacement.  Any of these essays would justify the price of the book.

Some things in Muy Macho I wish were different

This essay collection was phenomenally well written, but trended toward the literary.  Some of the essays were almost incomprehensible.  Some were disturbing without apparent purpose.  Some voices were missing.

Perhaps a project like this wouldn't work if it incorporated younger voices or 3rd generation voices or non-literary voices.  They essays were eye-opening, but I wonder how deeply they reflect my family, how accurately they capture the real world.  Contrasted to Pearl Fuyo Gaskins' What are You? (my favorite book on bi-racial identity) and her interview / echo approach, Muy Macho felt a little one note.  A guitar has a lot of diversity (6 strings), but it's not a symphony.  I'd love to see Muy Macho expanded, updated.

Additionally, I wish the book had more of a timeless quality about it.  Written in the midst of the now defunct men's movement, a lot of the conversation in the book sounds dated, moldy.  None of us beat drums shirtless in the woods to find our masculinity ... at least ... not anymore.  But this quirk can easily be forgiven.

Are you reading anything good?

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