Brandon Alvarez, May, 2017

Trauma, noun, 2. “A psychic injury, esp. one caused by emotional shock, the memory of which is repressed and remains unhealed; an internal injury, esp. to the brain, which may result in a behavioral disorder of organic origin. Also, the state or condition so caused”(OED, 2016). In my mind, trauma is no longer a noun, it is a verb, an act; an act of repeated remembering. Imagine yourself on a Ferris wheel, but every time you go around your worst fear appears beside you with a gun to your head and all of a sudden you are left helpless to an apparition that lives inside you as it pulls the trigger.

Bactine can only do so much: a cut here, a welt there, it became routine even; one slowly grows accustomed to furious eyes and raised fists. Crack! A thousand memories of violence compiled into pockmarked skin and mindless apologies, it’s easy to think them normal after a while. Crack! But the dark lasts. Spending terrified eons swathed in it as the little pinpricks of insectile legs covered my skin. I began throwing up during meals because of what I knew would happen if I couldn’t finish my plate. Crack! The sting of the metal nibbed belt felt almost comforting compared to the alternative. Locked away like a disparaged puppet. Crack! My skin is bleeding now. Each time I’m left in a world of pitch black I can’t help but cry.

Trauma, words can’t capture the feeling until you are left trapped in it. My friends tell me I should see a therapist. But what they and the world have neglected, have forgotten to understand…trauma is a team player.

Machismo, noun. “The quality of being macho; manliness, male virility, or masculine pride; the display of this”(OED, 2016). Machismo, the assumption of the male body as “dominant, aggressive, unemotional, and….heterosexual” (Pena-Talamantes, 2013, p.166). “You disgust me”. Words that little boys never expect to hear spewing forth from their fathers’ mouths until they reach your ears and like little pinpricks draw blood from your rapidly paling face. I thought my father was a monster, until I met the real one puppeteering him like a macabre marionette master. Machismo, a cultural disease dressed up in the shiny trappings of “social norms”. Decades upon centuries of subjugating women, of casting out queer and trans people of color from our communities because “They don’t belong here”. The boy locked in the attic wants to cry but can’t, it’s not right for boys to cry.

Machismo, the dying rattles of the cultures colonized by the Spanish echoes in your name. Analogies are innocent enough until they force cultures to relive the rape and destruction of their histories, until they begin comparing dominated peoples to women, until they begin building up societies around them. Machismo took the violence of Spanish colonizers, of their rape and destruction, and placed it onto indigenous men. Machismo narrates a story where to be powerful, one has to claim that power over others; where femininity was passivized and sexualized, where it became synonymous with weakness. Denying native cultures their heritages, their practices, the Spanish force-fed a religion that defined family as being a power dynamic between husband and wife. Machismo was never meant to simply dictate gender roles, it serves as a way to control and oppress who is allowed to define and behave as what, and how these power echelons are allowed to interact.

Indigenous, adjective, 1. “Born or produced naturally in a land or region; native or belonging naturally to”(OED, 2016). Forgotten like trauma, but instead of a word we are an entire people. Indigenous. A word that is often thought to signify a forgotten past, traced with the blood-laden echoes staining the swords of Spanish Conquerors in their lust for gold, land, and power. The blood of the Indio, the native body stained scarlet in the weeping Andes, lost in the ground beneath it. Pizarro, Cortes, de Soto, Amalgro, names that will go down in history as the conquerors of a nation that nobody cared about. What they left? The dead, among them the living with dead souls.

Historical trauma, n. “Cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma” (Brave Heart 2001, p. 283). A lens that we too often forget to think about in contemporary white America. Culture-wide trauma seems ridiculous, impossible even, from the lens of the white American; their cultural power and historical ambiguity too strong to have a singular event, aside  from the apocalypse, leave lasting psychological impacts on near everyone. What is another case of child abuse when there are a thousand more worse than it? Everyday occurrences, that poor kid just happened to draw the short end of the stick.

I didn’t draw the short end of the stick in the parent pool, I drew from a hand filled with short sticks, a hand that each and every Indio is told it must take from. Trauma, Machismo, Indigenous, three words that culminate together to form a historical cycle that has been perpetuated over the eons to break down, damage, and disadvantage native bodies since colonization. Machismo, an ordered “difference in power…the exertion of dominance, control, and aggression of…Spanish men over….indigenous women…serv[ing ] as a wider metaphor for penetration of the colonized body” (Chant 2003, p. 132). The trauma of the rape, death, and carnage that destroyed entire nations; bought to life in Latinx-Indio men who are told from day one that they can have no power without taking it themselves.

As the pain of colonization is reflected in the power hierarchies of Machismo, it is too founded in the perpetuation of this trauma in the Indio’s descendant. Because of the prevalence of Machismo as historical trauma, experiences like mine, experiences of “childhood neglect, abuse, and household dysfunction” (Fryberg, 2016, pg. 6) have become so prevalent that indigenous youth often have to grow into higher thresholds for trauma and the development of PTSD just to survive (Heart, 2011, pg. 284). Indio youth are not afforded the luxury of coping, of learning to deal with the pain that is inflicted upon them day by day, month by month, and year by year. We experience trauma and move on because if we dwell on it too long we become another 1 in 5. One in five, 20%, the attempted suicide rate in indigenous youths. 3%, 3 in 100, is the normal suicide rate for those under the age of 20. Making the suicide attempt rate for indigenous youth nearly seven times the national average (Whitbeck,2014, pg. 168 : American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). This is not a unique or singular issue either, criminality, high rates of substance abuse, often poor school performance and negative perceptions of the education system, are all often indicators present in indigenous youth (Whitbeck, 2014). 

Indigenous youth are not the only ones holding the worst hand once the universe has dealt it’s cards. Indigenous women, and indeed, any individual who does not fit into this dichotomous power relationship are left reeling as what little they were dealt is taken from them. As Claudia Moreno describes in her 2007 study “Machismo hamper[s] women’s ability to leave abusive relationships because of sociocultural expectations, shame and fear, economic problems, few job skills, and shattered self-esteem…[it] disempowers…[them] from taking action and changing their risky behaviors and abusive situations” (p.11). Machismo doesn’t just target those who do not have the agency to act for themselves, it takes away agency from women and from anyone who is social identified as “non-masculine”. As one woman in Moreno’s study stated “When I was being abused, I thought that was life; because my mother did it to me, my uncle and aunts did it to me, so what made me think that my husband wasn’t going to do it to me?” (p.6). Women cannot break out of this cycle of abuse, as to report their partners, to fight back, to leave, is to risk more violence; to risk total social isolation. Machismo tells them that this is normal.

While Machismo has run rampant among the Latin-American populace for generations, to say that there have been no efforts to address its consequences would be a lie. The problem, in the case of current intervention strategy, is directly because of such. The issue is, we cannot stop this continuous cycle of abuse and control simply by treating the symptoms, we have to get at its consequent source. Hector Adames, a doctor in neuropsychology at Wright State University, argues that , “Many mental health providers have neglected the complexities involved when considering gender in the treatment of Latin[x]s” (2017, p.102). In other words, an individual’s sense of “gendered self” heavily influences the ways in which historical trauma (i.e. Machismo) affects them. For instance, Latinx men have a particularly difficult time expressing vulnerability, often resulting in emotional repression and low utilization of mental healthcare, while Latinx women often struggle with feelings of professional conflict due to pressure to become a homemaker (Adames, 2017). Due to the fact that Machismo is so centered around differential methods of oppression for people of different identities, I would posit that we can address the collective, rather than individual, trauma of Machismo by utilizing the same “treatment structure” but instead on a broader, community-level scale.

The collective trauma of the Latinx indigenous can be more accurately described as an “attack [on] the sense of history of those [the colonizer] wishes to dominate” (Adames, 2017, p.107). As such, the establishment of these preventative community-level structures has to be qualified in the sense that it does not further violate/destroy Latinx or Indigenous cultures and histories. In order to accomplish this, we will approach change from two different fronts, working through both culture and explicit governmental/community action.

In order to establish long-term cultural change, we first have to understand the process by which culture is created, or, as Dr. Hazel Markus (2016) describes it, the “cultural cycle”, being “the implicit and explicit patters of historically and socially derived ideas and images, and their manifestation in the institutions and interactions that constitute society” (p.2). These patterns are broken down into 4 separate stages: Ideas, Institutions, Interactions, and Individuals. Machismo, as a cultural practice, is a pervasive cultural idea (the highest tier of the cultural cycle). This then cascades down the cultural cycle. As institutions such as the Spanish Catholic Church reinforce the power dynamics of Machismo through scriptural teachings such as “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church..” (Ephesians 5: 22-23, The New International Version). This then manifests itself in the interactions between individuals. For example, the pervasive abuse and dominant behavior over women that men often express (as detailed previously), or the use of the word “Maricon” (loosely translated as “faggot” in English, but more significant as it implies one is not “worthy” of maleness) to moderate masculine/feminine behavior between males. This, then, creates the idea of the gendered self in the definition of the individual. Therefore, in order to combat Machismo, we have to combat its weak points at the various levels of the cultural cycle. As Fryberg and Markus (2016) further detail, “we can close the gaps created by disruptions in traditional cultural cycles – the effects of colonizing practices on Indigenous cultures – and can foster a sense of cultural continuity by considering how each level of the cultural cycle impacts psychological well-being” (p. 12). In other words, the trauma of colonization (Machismo), can be fought against in Indigenous communities by supporting Indigenous narratives; by creating a sense of “continuity” between one’s historical self and culture and one’s contemporary self and culture. To accomplish this, I bring in research from the Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology and from Dr. Susan Klein’s research in her handbook on the achievement of Sex Equity.

According to Saba Safdar and Tracy Berno (2016), acculturation as a process of cultural change is often initiated by the cross-cultural “sojourner”; defined as “voluntary, temporary acculturating groups”, being those who travel across cultures with the intention of returning to their place of origin (p.173). Due to the fact that sojourners only have a finite amount of time to gain and adjust their cultural knowledge, they are a particularly interesting case study in how individual change can be made in a short period of time. While this change depends on a number of factors, (such as language, discrimination, social support, personality factors, motivational factors, finance, and academics (p. 178-179)) I would like to hone in on the impact of social support.

As a general observation, international students with more social support tend to experience less social and academic stress, leading to more robust changes to their cultural selves (Safdar & Berno, 2016, p. 178). Social support, in this context, is quantified by number of host-country students in an international student’s social circle. Drawing on this observation, I would posit that, by utilizing the adaptive process of the sojourner, we can generate long term social change in indigenous communities through the institution of education. As such, I would argue that a connection can be made in the contexts experienced by indigenous and international students due to the fact that, as described by Fryberg and Markus, the trauma suffered by indigenous students stems from the disruption of their traditional cultural cycles by the culture of the colonizer. In other words, like international students, indigenous students suffer from a large cultural shift; even if on a much greater scale than the international student. Furthermore, as both Safdar and Berno (2016), along with Fryberg (2016) state, social support is a major indicator of personal success in the future; whether it be the number of host-country friends for international students, or the acceptance and support of indigenous cultural practices and histories of indigenous students.

Drawing upon Dr. Susan Klein’s (1985) research in the achievement of Sex Equity, it is argued that equity, as a function of education, impacts and is impacted by levels of equity within society (p.14). This concurs with Fryberg and Markus’ theory of cultural change, as outlined in the following. Education, as a construct, is an institution that teaches students (Individuals) various academic practices (Ideas). However, social and cultural practices (Ideas) are also taught via student interactions with teachers and peers (Interactions); ultimately shaping the student into their own definition of self (Individuals). Being that education, as a period of development, is a particularly crucial time for the creation of a student’s social dynamic, a change in the way the institution influences the student will consequently cause change in the culture itself; causing changes in the way students interact, define themselves, and eventually shifting cultural ideas as new generations learn new practices. Therefore, shifting out of this theoretical framework and to the problem at hand, how can we realistically apply this to combat Machismo?

The answer to this question is not a particularly easy one, as it requires a rather large and long-term scale of thinking. Despite this, however, two distinct subdivisions exist when discussing distinct and actionable change, being governmental and non-profit actions. Within Fryberg and Markus’s 2016 study with North American Indigenous students, they had the administrative support of the indigenous community and local government to make changes within the structure of the school system to be more favorable to the native populations there. While the same courses of action are feasible within specifically indigenous South American communities, the potential for such expressive changes is less probable in outside or mixed communities. Therefore, the first step to actionable change is creating community awareness and creating small social initiatives in these situations outside native communities where indigenous students are even more likely to struggle without a concretized historical community base. To do this, we utilize the creation of the gendered self by Machismo to specifically target different gendered traumas. These, in turn, will be explored through the framework of various gendered identities below.

Relative to indigenous Latinx men, there is an expressive impact of Machismo on the extents to which one is allowed to self-define due to the limits that Machismo places on masculinity as a whole. In particular, Machismo delimits emotionality to be feminine, which in turn leads to trends of emotional repression, often leading to the abusive outbursts characterized by Machismo earlier as men feel that they are losing their levels of “masculine control. This, in turn, causes male indigenous students to suffer academically as they become much less prone to seek emotional or academic help (as such is indicative of weakness). This, in turn, often leads these students to early involvement in the school or legal disciplinary system. Therefore, exploring explicit changes that could consequently made to target this subgroup, I would posit that creating student groups centered around masculinity (whether inside school or outside as a community group for youth) would be particularly effective in creating the “social support” (as explicated earlier) to move into a cultural idea of selfhood that is not as rooted in Machismo. More particularly, having male administrators provide spaces of affirmation where the male community of students feel like their emotions are being validated provides students with a way to break out of the emotional boundaries of Machismo. In tandem, this provides a space for male students to freely re-define masculinity for themselves. As Machismo places masculinity at the crux of personal self-worth and power, allowing students to re-define masculinity as a less violent/oppressive construct provides them with a way to generate change while not having to fully reject themselves or alienate themselves from the ideas of larger society (providing smoother levels of acculturation).

Relative to indigenous Latinx women, a large part of the fight against Machismo stems from the resistance of the gendered expectations and evaluations that is places on them. As a function of historical trauma, Machismo inherently passivizes femininity and sexualizes it comparatively to masculinity (as a reflection of the physical dominance of the colonizer over the colonized, as detailed earlier). Therefore, a large part of any community based action will rely on empowerment and support. More specifically, teaching educators to be conscious of gender biases in the classroom, and how to actively combat them, is important. Validating female student’s responses, encouraging them to look beyond the cultural expectance of them as mothers and home-makers, and calling out misogynistic or sexualized comments towards female students are all key to establishing to female students that they possess power as individuals. Coupled with this, screenings of films or discussions of strong indigenous Latinx femmes within the curricula or within student orgs will provide room for more self-defined notions of womanhood. Considering that women who break norms of submissivity are often labeled as “not Latina enough”, establishing that Latinx women can be powerful while being Latinx is important to maintain the self-image of Latinx women while acting against Machismo. As a last implementation, although more controversial, simply making indigenous Latinx women aware of the gender discrimination and disparity that exists as a result of Machismo is important. It is awareness of this that drove such powerful protests and Latinx/Chicanx movements among women during 2 nd wave feminism.

Lastly, relative to indigenous Latinx non-binary or queer individuals, combating Machismo becomes slightly more complicated. Due to the fact that homophobia is particularly prevalent, queer indigenous Latinx individuals already face a great deal of discrimination. On top of this, individuals within the community often isolate and discriminate against each other (For instance, gay men condemning others for being too “feminine”). As non-binary and queer individuals transgress both the gender and sexual boundaries of Machismo (being that there must be a male-female binary and that there must be male/female couplings where the male is dominant over the female), connecting these students and individuals with support groups is crucial to their survival. The function of social support is accentuated in this case, as these individuals are part of a greater number of oppressed groups, and need some form of social acceptance in order to progress forward. Consequently, the administrative measures by which educators can widely impact this populace is a bit more difficult (as the political measures around enacting anti-discrimination policies is much more convoluted). Therefore, in this case, offering group counseling sessions may also be beneficial for these students.

Lastly, looking at the various methods of governmental action we can use to drive change; the question becomes less, “what can we do?”, and more “what shouldn’t?”. As Radcliffe(2006) details, a crucial factor to consider when trying to make cultural change in indigenous communities is that we do not further transgress indigenous histories or further impose the practices of the “dominant” culture onto them. Too often when action is attempted at the governmental level,  such “rel[ies] on notions of [the Indio]…as the labor that would build the new nation the bodies that would consume the goods that it produced…[becoming] a sort of sacrificial offering that afforded safe passage into…realized modernity” (Coronado, 2009, pg. 168). As consequence, the government then becomes a facet of colonialism itself by forcing the totality of the labor to move to “modernity” onto the Indio. Therefore, as Cordova (2014) explicates, the only way we can effectively combat Machismo is to “…respect both Western and indigenous democratic and participatory principles” (pg. 25). As governmental action requires the consensus of elected leaders along with the general agreeance of the populace, I would hence argue that governmental level action can’t really be used as a large factor for cultural change in this instance. Aside from potential legal action around the crackdown of the legal system on parental and spousal abuse (which would just lend to the imprisonment of more men, hence actually accentuating the negative effects of Machismo), feasible action can’t really be implemented without first establishing cultural change.

Machismo. What remains with an entire culture is destroyed? Three syllables containing the suffering of thousands of Latinx youth, indigenous youth. A group that is more susceptible than almost any other group around the globe. My bruised and battered body is one of the lucky ones, with only a few inches of blade between I and those who’s cries will never be heard again. Thousands of indigenous bodies are piled underneath our feet, and because of Machismo, because of the expectations of violence and trauma that colonization has created, it is only growing larger day by day, year by year. As the Spanish raped our culture, as they murdered and left the oppressive force of Machismo and of the Spanish Catholic Church, we are still left reeling and bleeding out on the floor as our youth struggle to survive; never mind succeed. If we want to move forward as a people, as a group of survivors struggling to find a place in the world, it is crucial that we find a way to combat it. By using the very force of Machismo, it’s oppressive gendered nature, we can create interventions in our youth to teach them to adapt. To overcome the limitations, the violence, and the power imbalance that Machismo has created in our communities and re-define what it mean to be Indigenous, to be Latinx. Even as reluctant generations of tradition in oppression define our elders, we can revolutionize and change culture across time. We use education not as a method of resistance, but as a method of change, of fighting against that which has killed both predecessor and peer.


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