Growing up, it has always been interesting to look at what the media believes it means to be a masculine Latino man. Masculinity has always been something intriguing. Not only because I am a man, but because, in my life I have always felt a lack of strong male role models to look up to. Masculinity become even more interesting to me when I started to realize that what was expected of me as a Latino man, was different than what my non-Latino peers were being told. Often times, I found when I expressed my culturally learned sense of masculinity among my non-Latino peers, they would exaggerate what I would say, do, or admonish my actions as being hyper masculine and overly machista. It was not until I started to look at masculinity through the paradigms offered by Critical Race Theory, that I started to understand some what I was experiencing. Overall, there are four concepts within Critical Race Theory that help to shape my understanding of Latino masculinity. There four concepts include, whiteness as property, Racial Realism (particularly the reality of racial erasure for Latina/o/x communities), Intersectionality, and Resistance. I will go through each of these different concepts and how they apply to how Latino masculinity is seen in within the larger white context of the United State of America. However, before we start explaining why and how masculinity is viewed it is important to understand the three main perspectives of what Latino masculinity is. For this purpose, I will be naming these perspectives The Cholo, El Rico Suave, and El Jardinero. One important aspect to remember is that these are all different points within a wide set of complicated and intertwined spectrums and that each of these points also have sub-points we will not be getting to in this post.
This perspective of masculinity is one the media particularly love. It is the perspective that people like to use when wanting express and showcase the negativity of Latino Masculinity. This has also most recently been coined by the current president and other political figures as the “Bad hombres”. Typical characteristics showcased by The Cholo would be the “hyper masculine” overcompensation through the use of violence, drug use and abuse.
El Rico Suave
Good looking, overly sexualized, highly muscular, good with woman and knows how to use everything he’s got. These are some of the common conceptions of the El Rico Suave perspective of masculinity. This is often what individuals swoon over while reading those too good to put down romance novels your mother seems to enjoy. Maybe it’s the combination of mystique, poetic phrases and baby oiled muscles that she finds so masculine.
El Jardinero takes a different approach than the other perspectives. For El Jardinero, it’s not about overcompensating, violence, or being a lady’s man. For El Jardinero, masculinity is centered around honor, pride and hard work. El Jardinero is about wanting to create something better, even at the cost of yourself. A willingness to sacrifice for a promise of a better tomorrow for those you care about regardless of the potential risk to yourself.
Whiteness, property of Whiteness, Racial Realism and Intersectionality
When talking about masculinity, it is important to have the understanding that when it comes to conversations in the United States of America, Whiteness has a monopoly on what is considered good and proper. This means that when the conceptualization of what it means to be masculine is constructed, it is done so through the perspective of what does the ideal White man act and look like. This in and of itself, turns the conceptualization of masculinity into property, that is able to change, be explained, or explained away based on what is in the best interest for the White men. If you are able to perform masculinity perfectly to what the ideal White man would act and look like, then you have successfully achieved something. What exactly that is, no one is sure, and if you are not White yourself, then you have not actually achieved anything because since whiteness has a monopoly on masculinity, it has the ability to designate any guidelines it would like as to what is too masculine (or hyper masculine) and what is not masculine based on your racial background.
This is the unfortunate reality of masculinity being considered “property” of whiteness. It has the unfortunate and undeniable ability to set the expectations and when said expectations are either met or worked toward, the ability to shame and label the expectations as “bad” solely based on your racial identification. The aspect that often times trips people up is their inability to understand that a Latino Man cannot and will not be considered these things separately. There is an intersection to being a Latino individual and a Man that comes with a variety of different pre-set expectation.
The Racialized Reality of The Cholo, El Rico Suave, & El Jardinero
Before we talk about the racialized reality of the conceptions of Latino masculinity, it is important to state that as Zinn (1982) stated in regards to their work on Chicano men and masculinity, that it is important to look at Latino masculinity as a response to structural inequity, exclusion, and discrimination. As Ramirez and Flores (2011) stated, “it is a strictly cultural response to colonization and European domination”. This is very much the reality of why there are three different yet similar connotations to masculinity for Latino Men. It is not that all Latino men have to potential to become any of these perspectives, but rather the lack of want to recognize that regardless of race, all men, including white men have the potential for aggression and violence, infidelity and mysterious allure, & honor and hard work. It is simply a matter of looking at the intersectionality of the person as a whole and not intentionally attempting to demean another individual. After all, I believe that Ramirez, and Flores (2011) said it best when they stated, “the true diversity and complexity of Latino masculinities … goes well beyond the images that circulate in American television, movies and magazines” (pp. 265).
Zinn, M. B. (1982). Chicano men and masculinity. The Journal of Ethnic Studies, 10(2), 29.
Ramirez, H., & Flores, E. (2011). Latino Masculinities in the Post-9/11 Era. Gender through the Prism of Difference, 259-270.