Yes, Latin families are machistas.

But in spite of the negative connotation that the term conveys, it generally is not an abusive role. The best way to understand this dynamic is to think about a typical American family from the 1950’s.

The male of the house has a default lead in all family affairs. The father, the “man of the house,” makes all mayor decisions.

Usually he’s also the main breadwinner. And while that may seem outdated by 21st century standards, it’s important to keep in mind that this male leadership is perhaps the very glue that keeps Hispanic families together.

There’s a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility that Latin fathers feel towards their families – and this is across all income segments.

This may explains the fact that while the number of Hispanic children leaving without a father is at 28%, slightly above the national average of 24%, it is significantly below the 51% of fatherless African American Children. [1]

This dominance of the male is instilled from an early age, via preferential treatment led by the mother and grandmothers.

Boys are rarely asked to help in house chores, particularly in those traditionally reserved to females (like cleaning, doing laundry or cooking)… and boys also learn from their fathers – as a norm, a Latino male will rarely engage in the house chores.

The no so subtle machismo is also enforced by the double standard that males and females teens have in terms of the rules while living at home.

Males are usually given more freedom, later curfews and a more generous allowances. Females are required to follow stricter rules, often not being allowed to date until an older age than their male siblings. In some extreme cases, female daughters can be disciplined by their brothers.

While mothers love their daughters, they tend to have preference towards their male sons. A very common term of endearment that a mother will use for her son is “mi rey”: my king.

However, this adoration is a two-way street.

Many Latin males have a very strong connection with their mothers. In fact, this is the reason behind the very common practice of using two surnames in Latin America. People use the mother’s maiden name, after their father’s family name, as a way to honor their mothers.

That also explains why mother’s day is such an important date for the Latin culture. There are literally hundreds of songs in Spanish honoring mothers. How many songs about mothers in English can you name from the top of your head?

Below an example from Ricardo Arjona, from the song with the unfortunate title “My girlfriend is getting old”:

My girlfriend is getting old
And it’s getting hard for her to walk
I haven’t been here to see her in three months – and on a tray
She serves coffee to her love

 Yeah – he’s calling his mom his “girlfriend.”

What can I tell you.

I guess we love our moms.

[1] US Census. America’s Families and Living Arrangements, 2012