Words by Adrian Vargas
Within every culture there are standards one must meet; these can include athleticism, maturity, or intellect. Each culture is comprised of varying attributes, and each person is expected to meet those standards. For example, a Mexican male should be a leader, fearless in the face of opposition, and ultimately be the head of any household. They are not to be looked down upon and are expected to be tough, burly, suave, hardworking, and smooth; these are what qualities I must satisfy to meet the conventional definition of a Mexican man. These ideologies are to be followed to a T, and those who don’t fit the mold often face severe consequences from their families as well as their communities. Most of these ideologies stem from our grandfathers and their fathers before them.
My grandparents were both boxers, and my father was a tennis and racquetball champ, so all three met their athletic quota rather easily. But then I had to find my own path. Like most boys, I was thrown into the world of sports and attempted athleticism. I started off small with T-ball, and when I couldn’t swing my arms correctly, I was given the opportunity to try and kick my feet professionally. I ended up disregarding the instruction on how to make me an Olympic swimmer, instead focusing on games of Marco Polo and sharks and minnows.
I wasn’t showing any signs of getting a Nike contract, but the ones who would constantly remind of that fact were my peers, the other boys, my “competition.” How could I be tough if I couldn’t even hit or kick a ball correctly? What possible positive remarks about someone’s athletic ability could one make regardingsomeone with no athleticism? The approval and respect of other boys is essential, and without it one cannot achieve manhood. Eventually, I was no longer pushed into being a sports star. But although I did not meet one standard of manhood, perhaps I could meet another.
Unlike myself apparently, my grandfathers were hard-working leaders, in both their occupational and familial life. I’m not quite old enough to achieve the job leadership standard, but I at least could have instilled within my head the idea that I need to control my family, that I need to dictate who does what and when, and that I need to put my interest above all else.
And if that means demanding my girlfriend or spouse put their life, or their dreams, on hold, so be it. I did not let that happen. I said no to that idea, the idea that I need to control my future wife and her actions. What do I receive for going against that old-fashioned ideology? Disappointment and annoyance. It’s unheard of for many Mexican men to even allow their wives to work. It’s to the point where if a man’s wife were to have work, that man would be labeled a failure. Why would I want to risk that? Why risk my own life and goals for those of someone else? It’s an idea rooted in ignorance, but it still must be followed in order to achieve Mexican manhood.
So I failed to meet two standards: star athlete and relationship dictator. What did I have left? If I couldn’t be the athlete or the ruler I was supposed to be, I could at least be a member of Mensa – the high IQ society – or so some thought. My father was a Harvard grad, and because of this I was expected to end up there as well, if not someplace better. Instead I made it to FSU, a place that provided all that I needed for my path in life. The joy my mother showed upon hearing my acceptance was simultaneously overshadowed with the guilt and shame that comes along with falling short of what my culture expects of me. I am no star athlete, my IQ doesn’t exceed 130, and I will never attempt to control the life of the woman who will love me. I am no longer a Latino man.
I grew up with the expectation that I should be someone I am not: an athletic, intellectual, controlling boyfriend. Instead, I am an anti-social writer who enjoys music, the arts, and supports equality in relationships. But that won’t lead me to happiness, because the logic behind this style of upbringing stems from the idea that Latino males should be a specific being, and by doing so, allow us to grow and live happy lives. That idea is a falsity. It is a way of life that is meant to be a bragging tool for parents that is disguised as a way of success for male children. That ideal man is and never was about the individual. It is an ideal that is fought for by the older generations, an ideal that is instilled upon their offspring so that their parents can show off their conventionally-successful children, an ideal that if you don’t conform to the narrative of Hispanic male culture, then you cannot belong to anything. Many cultures beyond that of Hispanics contain these ideas, and subsequently carry with them the same feelings of not belonging, feelings that are real for those who don’t meet the criteria. In the end, for Latino manhood, it’s not about who one wants to be, but who they should be.