Shifting Identity: Process and Change in Identity of Aging Mexican-American Males

Article excerpt

This article addresses the shift in machismo identity that occurs in Mexican-American male identity and the developmental process and the change in one's role as an elderly Mexican-American man.

Socialization of male-ism in Mexican-American boys begins with the cultural expectation that a young boy is and will be a man. There are also explicit expectations that girls should be respected but that, in contrast to boys, girls should be submissive and obedient. This is the beginning of machismo and the separation of being a "man" versus being a "woman."

Aging results in a loss of machismo and this is evident by the manner in which elderly males interact with their spouse and adult children. Towards the latter part of life, decision-making becomes a shared process between spouses. Quite often, Mexican-American elderly males are seen accompanying their spouse's at flea markets, garage sales,grocery shopping and even assisting with baby sitting grandchildren.

Key words: machismo, aging, Mexican/American, identity, gender roles

History of Machismo Characteristics

Machismo as a concept characterizing male behavior and personality has the potential of influencing boys who are socialized in corrective matters that are harsher than girls and their own sense of worthiness is brought to their attention to be a man before they reach manhood. For example it is not uncommon for boys to be told that they must act like a man not a woman and to hold themselves proudly without emotions. This historical or anthropological perspective suggests that machismo involves bravado and suppressing emotions (Riding, 1985).

It is important to note that machismo can have both positive and negative meanings, positive in the sense of protecting the honor and welfare of the family, having a strong work ethic, being a good provider and living up to responsibilities (Galanti, 2003). Whereas the negative elements can include heavy drinking, subjugation of women and performance of high-risk activities that increase health risks among males and potential domestic violence for females (Redondo-Churchward, 1998).

As boys transition into adolescence and young adulthood, machismo is played out in relationship to how they conduct themselves against other males and in their relationship with females. The sharp dichotomization of gender roles in some segments of the Mexican community seems to only add to the misunderstanding or the term macho. Typically, boys settle matters by fighting with other boys and losers are considered less macho. Boys maintain a distant relationship with girls who are perceived as being unworthy of group membership; they are willing to simply follow. This interactional process solidifies hypermasculinity and, in some sense, a cultural image of male honor, respect, and specific gender roles (Neff, 2001).

By the time that they enter young adulthood males have experienced a strong dose of how to exert machismo and they practice dating behaviors while maintaining the upper hand with girls. The young male seeks out girls that come from traditional Mexican-American families, believing that traditional females will act submissively and will not challenge his macho role. Many Mexican-American marriages begin with a clear sense that the male is boss and that all decisions must be accepted by the female. "Nevertheless, family decision-making is described as either a joint process of both parents or primarily the job of the mother" (Vega, 1990, p. 1020). Ybarra (1982) found a range "from a patriarchal (role-segregated) structure to an egalitarian (or joint-role) structure, with many combinations of these two polar opposites evident" (p. 172).

Yet what was initially clear related to gender roles gradually gives way to uncertainty, much in response to bicultural assimilation that occurs in U.S./Mexico border regions. In the absence of a distinct model of behavior it is no wonder that things begin to change for Mexican-American males at midlife when their spouse assert increasingly more influence in decision making. …