Puerto Rican culture, whether on the island or in migrant Puerto Rican communities in the continental United States, is often associated with the concept of machismo. Machismo is a set of beliefs and attitudes that emphasize male dominance, control, and aggressiveness. It is often viewed in a negative fashion by outsiders. The values of machismo underlie Agüeros’ ‘‘Dominoes’’; the author presents the concept mostly in a negative light, with the exception of one passage, which might permit a more positive interpretation.
What is machismo? The term is used to refer to a concept of masculinity found not only in Puerto Rican culture but also in other Latino societies, as well as a range of Hispanic groups in the United States. Some elements of machismo are also found in non-Hispanic societies.
Puerto Rican scholar Tirso Mejía Ricart, in an influential 1975 study quoted in Rafael L. Ramírez’s What It Means To Be a Man: Reflections on Puerto Rican Masculinity, names twenty principal characteristics of machismo. Male cultural, intellectual, and physical superiority to women is a central characteristic. Other characteristics of machismo include sexual potency; ‘‘Don Juanismo,’’ named after the legendary lover, meaning a man who possesses an unlimited number of women and supports several of them simultaneously; emotional rigidity, especially in critical situations; independence (which is denied to women); aggression, physical or psychological violence is an acceptable way of settling differences; hunger for power, which is shown by wanting to exercise control in all situations; physical strength; personal courage; honor (often associated with the behavior of the man’s wife rather than the man himself); and extravagance, with the purpose of showing off financial power.
Mejía Ricart regards machismo in an entirely negative light and advocates its eradication. However, other researchers have found positive aspects in machismo. Alfredo Mirandé, in Hombros y Machos: Masculinity and Latino Culture, conducted a survey of Latinos living in the United States. He found that Latinos had mixed responses to the concept of machismo. In addition to the negative characteristics mentioned above, there are positive qualities as well. Courage, which in the negative view has connotations of recklessness and courting danger, is seen as the ability to stand up for a person’s rights. Other positive values associated with machismo are responsibility and selflessness, meeting obligations, and a ‘‘general code of ethics’’ or set of principles that guide behavior in all areas of life. This includes respect for oneself and others, acting with sincerity, and being a man of your word.
Aspects of machismo form the cultural backdrop to ‘‘Dominoes.’’ Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic is the attitude toward women, and their place in society. It is clear that at least two of the male characters regard women in a patronizing light. Wilson tells Alma that she associates with the wrong kinds of men, men who are not machos. When she inquires about how his observations about fate apply to women, he replies with a disparaging remark that he knows nothing of women, recommending a spiritualist and the church, ‘‘One will tell you the future and the other will console you about it. But I’m not sure which does what.’’ The repeated protestations of ignorance about women’s concerns suggest an inability to exercise empathy for a person of the opposite sex. The remark also brings attention to a woman’s powerlessness. Her future is not in her own hands; her only option is to seek solace for what is beyond her control.
After Wilson’s pronouncements, he and Paco, who had apparently also been present, had ‘‘broken into very heavy prolonged laughter,’’ which suggests a male camaraderie that is hostile to women,...
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