Even as a young boy, I was always taught that men don’t cry. I never really saw the men in our family cry, except at funerals. I only saw my father cry when his mother died, his father died, his younger brother died in Viet Nam, and when my mother died. No one criticized the men for crying then. And the men never cried tears of joy.
But when I was little, I was always reminded not to cry whenever I fell, I didn’t get my way, or someone hit me–even when my mother hit me with the belt. Either my mother or my abuelita would constantly say, “Los hombre no lloran” [Men don’t cry!] Sometimes when I cried, my mother would hit me and say, “¡Para que tengas algo para llorar!” [So you have something to cry about!] Once when I was about nine, I got beat up by one of the boys on the block and I came home crying. When my mother saw me, she asked me why I was crying. I told her what had happened and she started hitting me. She made go back out to beat up the boy who had beat me up. Well, I went back to the boy’s house and I beat him up–and I beat him up good! He felt all the pent-up anger that I had built up inside of me from the previous two beatings–the boy’s and my mother’s. But I finally understood that men don’t cry.
So I learned to control my emotions. I didn’t cry when my paternal grandmother died; I was too young to understand. I didn’t cry when my paternal grandfather died; he died when he was 68 and he had fathered 18 children, so it wasn’t exactly a tragic death. But I did cry when my uncle Joseph Rodríguez died in Viet Nam; I cried because he was only 22. And, I thought that I, too, would die in Viet Nam. When my mother died, we had a lot of unresolved issues between us. I think the main reason I didn’t cry when she died was because I constantly heard her saying, “¡Los hombres no lloran!”