Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mexican Culture is in the Eye of the Beholder

Did you know that domestic violence is an innate trait in Mexican families? It's actually a part of Mexican culture. Did you know that? I didn't either until I was a sitting in a Chicano/Latino literature class when a discussion about culture came about. I believe the discussion revolved around a short story we had read for the class, it had some domestic violence in it, or a character referred to it, which then led the majority of the Anglo class to refer to it in essence with a shoulder shrug, saying something along the lines of "well that's Mexican culture, right?" I put in my two cents and said, "no that is not our culture, because if that is our culture, what's going to happen is that any Mexican guy you see, you're going to connect to domestic violence. When you look at me, you'll think I beat my girlfriend." What the students did is what happens when people witness an action by anybody that is of a different race and they then connect it to that culture specifically; they become amateur anthropologists because they observed something or read something, that has portrayed Mexicans or Mexican "culture" in a certain way, which makes them believe, hey, all Mexicans do that. For example I've read Gustavo Arellano's ¡Ask A Mexican!, and in there some of the people have similar assumptions about Mexicans, there was  person who asked something along the lines of "Why do Mexicans always spit in public areas?" I'm guessing seeing more than one Mexican commit an action, leads people to believe it's inherent to Mexican "culture." The action of course has to be negative. For example, I haven't heard anyone say, "Wow, Mexicans are incredible hard working laborers who do the work the we don't want to do! It must be a part of their culture." Or, "Hey, I see more Chicano and Chicana students at the university and in the library, it must be inherent in their culture to want to study, and get ahead!" Nope. You won't hear that, because apparently that is only associated with Asian culture. You see a few Mexican agricultural laborers get off of work, walk into a store, and buy a beer, and more than likely this is the reaction, "Welp! Not only are Mexicans dirty, but they can't wait to get off of work to get drunk. It must be inherent in the culture to be dirty and drunk." You may shake your head now.

I think the students actually believed or fell into this trap about domestic violence as Mexican culture, because the word "Macho" tends to be associated with us. And what is a macho? Why, a macho is nothing more than a mustachioed, beer drinking, dirty, tequila swilling, wife/girlfriend beating, Mexican guy who is the man of the house! El Chingon, El Mero-Mero, El Gran Cabron! I was astounded by that shit. I asked a few grad students what they thought about this, being Anglo, they believed domestic violence to be a part of Mexican "culture."

The word "macho" has two different meanings. Well technically three, for starters "macho" is used to refer to a male animal. Kinda like asking "es hombre o hembra?" (is it male or female?). I read a couple of essays conducted on the use of the word "macho," wherein both Mexican men and women were asked what it meant and if it was positive or negative. For the most part the majority answered, that a macho was a man who took care of his family, kept a roof over their head and kept them fed. However there were some that observed that there was also the negative connotation of "macho," which in essence was patriarchy. So there were a majority who said that "macho" was a positive term for the man who takes care of his family, and for others it was negative, a term that was used for men who ran patriarchal homes. So it is of no surprise that the negative definition is the one that we're associated with the most.

A day or so after the incident with the class, I was still stunned by this belief of domestic violence as Mexican "culture," I realized I was on the floor of a building where the anthropologists were housed. One them had her door open, so I knocked on the door and asked her my question, "Do anthropologists believe that domestic violence is part of Mexican culture." She took a long pause and breathed in heavily. She finally said, "Yes, unfortunately there are anthropologists who would say that domestic violence is a part of the Mexican culture." Okay, so then that means that scholarship, anthropological scholarship dictates that domestic violence is part of Mexican culture, so that means that students who take a class to learn about Mexican culture will be fed this shit about domestic violence as Mexican culture. So does that mean that if an Anglo girl gets into a relationship with a Mexican guy she'll go in thinking "well, if he beats me, it's okay, because it's a part of their culture"? Or will she think, "NO fucken way am I dating a Mexican guy, because they do all that macho beat-your-woman-to-keep-her-in-line-shit."?

Eventually I would find some solace in a Chicano studies professor who argued, that it was not a part of our culture. A few years later I also found it in a graduate student, herself a student of anthropology to whom I posed the same question. And she argued that it wasn't cultural, but there is that issue where people, even scholars, specifically anthropologists find it cultural, being that they are observers of all things cultural. Then again, she was a Xicana so she's trying to do her part within her discipline to pull others away from this type of popular scholarly belief or trap, because she is a part of our culture and does not want that to be what people see when they see a Mexican person-A Mexican man=Abuser and Mexican Woman=Abused.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing that non-Mexicans see as positive about our culture is the Mexican food served at the "authentic" Mexican restaurants. You see that out here in the midwest especially. "Lookit!! An authentic Mexican restaurant, with authentic Mexican food, authentic Mexican refried beans, and authentic orange Mexican rice, and authentic Mexican servers, and authentic Mexican men, and authentic Mexican women, and authentic carved and colorful Mexican chairs, and authentic Mexican Spanish! Authentic! A-u-t-h-e-n-t-i-c! AUTHENTIC!!" Please bludgeon me with one of those authentic Mexican chairs; our food is truly the only positive thing in the eyes of the general public.

"Lookit! Mexicans have great literary voices, read some of that Xican@ literature stuff!!"

"Huh? What? Oh, that stuff. Nah, we banned it, because it's counter hegemonic and just a bunch of anti-American Xican@ militants trying to incite disharmony amongst all races. Hey look a Mexican restaurant. I can get my Corona, burrito & taw-co fix now! Their food is the best thing they have going for them right now."

->Me lleva la chingada.<-

I met a professor who decries the discipline of anthropology, going so far as write scholarship on the attacking it. I can't remember his argument exactly, but his belief is that there is more involved in culture than simply observing it and pointing to things that happen within it. He believes that there are politics, economics, and social issues involved in what becomes termed "cultural." For example he brought up the tortilla and how when he's gone to visit his wife's (she's Xicana) family, he was told that they don't eat with tortillas because it's only poor or lower class people who eat with tortillas. Now if that's not a cultural mind fuck I don't know what is. In my mind and I'm sure in his, it was, what tha fuck are you talking about?! All Mexicans eat tortillas!! It's a part of their/our culture!! Similarly the Chicano/a Studies professor that I mentioned was against the belief domestic violence was a part of Mexican culture mentioned that while in Mexico she'd bought some shawls, and asked a family she met if they wore them, but they said no, that in these modern times women didn't really wear them anymore, usually only lower class women wore them. So in other words culture is also impacted by progress and modernity. Therefore, Mexican culture isn't simply about what can observed, it is also about the structural factors that impact it, and shape it. To be honest the non-tortilla eating Mexican family, is the only one I've heard of who won't eat tortillas. I don't know of any other Mexican family who does not eat tortillas due to the socioeconmic factors associated with it, which I guess everyone else I know are some backwards ass Mexicans, because culturally they have yet to modernize or progress. Both of my grandmothers used to wear the shawls, especially when someone passed away. Some of my aunts have continued that cultural tradition, but it'll probably die with them, because they're in the U.S. and the newer generations, probably can't see themselves wearing the shawls. So close to Mexico, yet so far.

The issue then becomes what is Mexican culture? Is it our food, the images of La Virgen de Guadalupe? Is it only the "positive"? Or is it also the "negative"? I think that what tends to be forgotten, is that not every Mexican family processes Mexican culture the same way. Nor is domestic violence particular to Mexican culture. Does it exist? Yes. Sometimes it depends on the class, but even when it's about class, you have families that are well off, wherein domestic violence is committed. Is it particular to Mexicans? No. Is machismo particular to Mexican men? No. Can an Anglo be macho (as in the negative version of the word)? People would argue no, and more than likely because "macho" is a Spanish word and therefore associated only with those who speak "Mexican." How can a white guy, or any non-Mexican for that matter be macho or engage in domestic violence if they aren't Mexican? As I said, in it's negative connotation, macho means patriarchy, which means yes, Anglos or any male of any ethnicity has the capacity to be or act macho and commit domestic violence. Or for example, google "Macho," and right upfront you get this definition: "showing aggressive pride in one's masculinity." Any male, of any ethnicity is capable of this as far as I know. Or are Mexican men some kinda super or hyper males who have an overabundance of testosterone which adds to their masculinity, and in turn results in the macho? That would make an awesome comic book, it'd be like having the secret to the super soldier serum that gave us Captain America. Except Mexican male blood would be extracted and placed in the bodies of blue-eyed, blonde-haired, lanky recruits, whose viscera would then explode outward, because they couldn't handle the "Hyper Masculine Blood" of the Mexican macho. Back on topic, is domestic violence more prevalent in Mexican families? I don't know, maybe it is, but does that make it a part of Mexican culture? I argue, fuck no.

It's funny, because I think, some night I could go out, get drunk and take a piss on the sidewalk, then next thing you know, people will be saying "yes, I just saw a Mexican pissing on the sidewalk, therefore pissing on sidewalks, is a part of Mexican culture. That's how easy it is for some people to associate something with another group of people; everyone is an anthropologist. They create our culture for us, or add to our culture, ignoring what we truly tend to accept as our culture.

So I guess a Mexican is not authentic unless he is a machista who engages in domestic violence.

Excuse me while I go do things that aren't particular to my culture, you know like go to college and study.


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