Dr. Lizette Ojeda discusses her experiences counseling Latino men.
When you think of Latino men, what do you think of? Do machismo, substance abuse, and violence come to mind? While these are some of the common stereotypes of Latino men, they are also, unfortunately, real issues that effect this population of men in great numbers. Fortunately though, there are also many Latino men who present with issues in counseling other than the aforementioned.
Before I first began counseling Latino men, I have to admit that I was biased and expected to encounter issues of machismo, substance abuse, and/or violence. My agenda was to help these men for the sake of their families who suffered as a result of their male power and problems. Quite frankly, I perceived the Latino man to be the source of familial problems. I thought it would be challenging to see these men past their machismo and all the baggage that comes with it. Very soon however, I began to see my Latino male clients past their woman-suppressing problems. I began to see them as victims of society’s expectations of men, and even more so of Latino men. I did not expect to counsel Latino men who shared their emotions and souls with me, but this is exactly what they did.
I will share a brief story of one of my Latino male clients (using a pseudonym and removing identifiable information) to (a) present a client with less typical problems characteristic of the Latino male, (b) bring to light macho behavior that the client was oblivious to, (c) discuss my experience as a Latina counseling Latino men.
Like many Mexican immigrants, Julian had emigrated to the U.S. for a piece of the “American pie.” His two years of college education liberated him from working labor jobs and instead worked in homecare as a nurse’s aid. Julian was a frantic man, desperate to save his marriage and family. Julian, reported that his wife had been seeing a younger man for about a year and finally wanted to leave with him. Through his tears, he expressed feelings of humiliation, anger, and previous homicidal thoughts toward his wife and her lover. He so desperately wanted her to stay with him, that he “wished her to have an accident that would leave her paralyzed so that she could never leave” him. Julian had convinced his wife to stay with him by begging on his knees, crying, and reminding her of their 5-year-old daughter, who would suffer without a complete family. Eventually however, his wife left him and their daughter behind. Literally overnight, Julian went from the sole breadwinner who was rarely at home because of working two jobs, to being a single father. Julian experienced distress not only because his wife had left him, but because he now had to view fatherhood very differently. His anxiety of single fatherhood came from a fear of being a bad father, as was his perception of his own. Julian never wanted any children because he perceived the world as too corrupt. In fact, he admitted to “convincing” his wife to four previous abortions. He felt guilt about the abortions and was overwhelmed with fear that God would punish him by taking his only child away. As time went by however, Julian was able to let go of his hope for his wife’s return and was able to decrease his anxiety about being a single father.
Throughout our work, it became apparent that Julian was struggling with abandonment and childhood issues. Julian had stated that he was not a macho like his father, although his only request was that his wife iron his clothes. While Julian was not an alcoholic, physically abusive, or a “macho like his father,” he did demonstrate less subtle forms of machismo that he was not aware of perhaps because of the severity of which he was exposed to during childhood by his father. For instance, he had used his power as a man to control his wife (e.g., abortions, keeping her from leaving him). Furthermore, he felt humiliated as a man for having been abandoned by his wife. After all, he had learned from his father that a woman’s purpose was to serve a man. He also believed that it was a woman’s job to raise a child, especially a daughter. Despite Julian’s not so obvious acts of machismo to the Latino macho, his seeking out counseling services should be recognized as a non-macho act given that Latinos underutilize counseling services in general.
My experience as a Latina counseling Latino men has been a challenging yet a fulfilling experience. As a young Latina woman counseling older Latino men, I had to deal with anxiety about my credibility. After all, how can I help an older man work on “man’s stuff” if I am just a young woman who couldn’t possibly understand, right? Luckily, my own fear of how Latino male clients would perceive me was actually greater than that of reality. As a Latina, I have had to listen to Latino men’s stories about the negative treatment of the women in their lives. At times, this is difficult to do because I too am a woman. But I have learned to see my Latino male clients past their negative behaviors and into their hearts full of pain. As a Latina counselor, I am a tool for Latino men to learn how to positively relate to women. I am a woman who can assure my Latino male clients that they are no less of a man should they share their pain and sorrow. I am a safe place where they can come and shed society’s expectations of them as Latino men…at least for a while.
–Originally published in the SPSMM Bulletin, Spring, 2007
Lizette Ojeda, MA University of Missouri – Columbia (at time of writing; now PhD & faculty at Texas A&M University