Spanish Classroom Chronicles: Deconstructing Machismo and redefining Maleness and Masculinity in Latinx/Latine Cultures

The opening of that class was this image.

A cold and windy morning in October. I’m tired and feeling burnt out already, but 3 minutes before starting class, I was already sweating and had awful flashbacks from my childhood.

Then, I entered the room. First class of the day. Set up the computer, turned the projector on, took a deep breath, and then, I started screaming these out loud:

-Pareces una nena.

-Lloras como una mujer

-Los hombres no sufrimos

-¡Sé un hombre!

-¿Te gusta el color rosado?

-¡Qué gay!

That was the beginning of a class, a tough but necessary one. When many cis girls, trans, non-binary, and other identities have consistently felt attacked, unsafe, invalidated, I could not stay silent anymore. I needed to start redefining maleness and masculinity. Still, I also needed to let everyone know -in a way- where I’m coming from, and that would require opening some traumatic, heavy, and emotional testimonios.

As I began to talk about the stereotypes and cultural aspects of Machismo in Mexican culture, I felt like I was going down a spiral of emotions.

Speaking en español entirely, I began mentioning that I’ve never had to worry about which restroom to choose. Walk late at night in a dark alley, or walk around busy streets without being catcalled or verbally assaulted.

However, folks, that is not the big problem here. In my opinion, the problem is the silence and the complicity. The silence of those who know of another cishet man doing physical and emotional harm from a position of power and influence. That is called: “el pacto.”

¿Qué es “el pacto”?

Imagen: ZonaDocs

You could translate El pacto as the unwritten agreement of silence and complicity. Hacerse de la vista gorda. We were tossing empty statements of solidarity but refusing to acknowledge our role as cishet males to denounce what is wrong with toxic masculinity and Machismo in our cultures.

This, colegas, requires to ser vulnerable.

(deep breath)

First day of 7th grade. After spending three years in a Montessori school, I had just transferred to a public school. I had a chance to be in a completely different environment from the sheltered, inclusive, and affirming space. Now, he was about to start in a class of 40 students, and the 7th-grade class met the first period of that first school year with El Maestro Carrillo.

The teacher entered the room, and everyone stood up. With a potent voice, like a radio commentator, he announced his arrival with a big

“Buenos días, estudiantes”.

The class responded with a chant:

“Bueeeeenos dííííasssss, Maestro Carrillo”

Time for taking attendance. In Mexico, the first 15 minutes of class is almost entirely spent checking that students are present. This way of pasar lista is almost always done in alphabetical order.

“¡Almazán-Vázquez!”

“¡Presente!”

I made a mistake at that moment when I heard my name. A mistake nobody told me about: I stood up and said hi to everyone in the room with a smile and a wave.

I thought I was being kind, but it turned out that my greeting gesture made the rest of the class burst into laughter and mimic my voice.

I’ve had a speech problem for many years; it was tough for me to roll my “r’s” when most folks had learned how to pronunciar las erres at a much earlier age. Mi español siempre estuvo marcado por eso. Even my English has memories of it too!

I felt like I just wanted to run away from that classroom. El Maestro Carrillo ignored the awkward moment. That was, perhaps, the worst memory I have of a “Spanish class.”

Yes, El Maestro Carrillo was my “Spanish Teacher,” as many of you in the US, English users, have your “English teachers” in middle/high school.

As I finished the day, I was grabbed by many 8th and 9th graders and taken to a hidden spot behind my school gym.

-“Almazán, ¿qué pasa? ¿tienes miedo?”

I was scared and did not know how to react at that moment. One of the 9th graders, el Mazinger Z, asked me if I knew how to box. Like Julio Cesar Chávez or Hector “el Macho” Camacho.

Another 9th guy, known as el Popeye (poh-peh-yeh) said:

“no te preocupes, aquí te enseñamos, tú tranquilo, relájate”

I was held as a punching bag to this guy. I’ve learned what a “jab” meant that day. I tasted the blood from my mouth for the first time.

One of the school counselors found me later, sitting in a corner, crying, sobbing. She offered to give me a ride back to my house (back then, I used to take public transportation as a 7th grader) and dropped me with my parents.

Mom was sad, but my dad, with his best of intentions and with what life taught him, said:

“para que se haga hombrecito”.

What does that even mean?

Para que se haga hombrecito is one of the most repeated expressions in Macho culture. This is not a reflection of particular families. In my opinion, this is a review of culture and ideas perpetuated by social constructs that have allowed generations of cishet male individuals, like me, to train and absorb these implicit biases. An idea is that as a cishet man, we must learn how to be the man of the house and find courage as a man.

Then, I continued with my story:

To avoid another beating, I had to learn how to smoke cigarettes. I’ve had my first “alitas” (a famous cigarette brand) to earn some respect.

Luckily, I quit smoking a long time ago. Still, I often reflect on how smoking filterless tobacco actually and ironically saved me from many episodes of demonstrating how much of a macho I could be.

Boys left me alone for the rest of middle school and, eventually, high school. I became a loner, a hermit; the best companion for me, at age 11, was a cup of coffee with a cigarette. Nadie me molestaba, yo no molestaba a nadie.

Redefining maleness and masculinity in Latinx/Latine cultures is a burden and a task. When violence against women, trans, non-binary, is on the rise these days, we must act on this. I often remember that it is not their job to educate all cishet males about patriarchy and the systems from which people like me continue to benefit.

I’m not responsible for educating many of my family members and friends in Mexico about what it means to be and exist like a cishet man. I’m responsible for breaking up the cycle and sharing these testimonies with current and future students. I’m also accountable to continue to model the things I wish I had experienced back in the day.

Suppose you are a cishet man educator. Take this testimony as an opportunity to examine where in your curriculum you can interrupt and disrupt the biases and stereotypes associated with the social constructs in your culture. We owe this to our students.

Break the cycle.

Rompe el pacto.

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Spanish Teacher, Soccer coach, and Latin Dance Instructor at The Putney School.

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Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez

Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez

Spanish Teacher, Soccer coach, and Latin Dance Instructor at The Putney School.

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