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LIFESTYLE: The Character Of A Man

Local author challenges the sacred role of patriarchy in his book, "The Latino Male: A Radical Redefinition."

By T.J. Furman

March 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Packet Online. All Rights Reserved.

David Abalos is a changed man. Or, more to the point, he is a transformed man.

As a professor at both Seton Hall and Princeton universities, Dr. Abalos teaches religious studies and sociology. The major theory he espouses is one of transformation.

Transformation is a process in which men and women recognize that archetypal stories of the past trap them in behaviors that can lead to abuse and neglect, and then take steps to form new stories that will create a more loving home. The theory extends beyond the front door, however. Dr. Abalos believes a family that embraces transformation can make a difference in the community through volunteer or advocacy work.

He is a living example of the theory.

Living the life of transformation for more than 30 years, Dr. Abalos is well-known in the East Windsor-Hightstown area for his work as an advocate for students in the East Windsor Regional School District, particularly those in the English as a second language program. He and his wife, Celia, are also active as benefactors for the Better Beginnings day care center for underprivileged children in Hightstown.

"Once you work out the dynamics at home, then you can do all sorts of things in the community," Dr. Abalos said one recent afternoon while sitting at a table in the kitchen of his East Windsor home. "They can reach out for others to make life more compassionate and just for everybody. You don't leave it at home."

Dr. Abalos, the son of Mexican immigrants, has written five books, the most recent of which – "The Latino Male: A Radical Redefinition" – was published earlier this year. "The Latino Male" focuses on how the theory of transformation can be used by Latino men in the United States – and how its opposite consequence, deformation, has hurt Latino men for years.

The primary archetypal story that keeps men from transforming is one of patriarchy, Dr. Abalos theorizes in his new book. The story of patriarchy is one in which the man is the king of his castle and any attempts to subvert that authority is met with retribution, which can become violent.

The book points out that patriarchy is deeply linked with the story of the disappointed male, in which Latino men already upset by perceived racism in the world outside of their homes lash out against threats to male privilege in the home, the last domain in which they feel they have any authority. Threats against male privilege at home can amount to children who speak English (and thus fit in better with the outside world the father feels has rejected him) or a wife who takes a job.

"The story of patriarchy is so deeply ingrained in us," Dr. Abalos explained. "It's a sacred story that possesses us because we're unconscious of it."

Dr. Abalos believes the first step to ending a cycle of patriarchy is to recognize there is a problem.

"When you're being raised, you take it for granted," he said. "Then when you step back and name that story you can get angry about it and then you can focus the anger at the real enemy. The enemy is a story and a culture that thinks it can dominate women."

Too often, Dr. Abalos said, men rebel only against those who play out the story, such as their fathers, and not the story itself. "Thus, we repeat it," he said.

Men are not the only actors in the destructive story of patriarchy, however, according to Dr. Abalos. Women raised in a patriarchal society are taught to accept the dominating role of men in their lives and are unlikely to directly challenge it.

In the acknowledgments for "The Latino Male" Dr. Abalos credits his wife for avoiding that pitfall.

"I owe so much of what it means to be a Chicano and Latino man to my wife, Celia," he wrote, "who struggled with me for many years and gave me the gift of refusing to accept my patriarchal ways."

It becomes clear in reading "The Latino Male" that it is a book that can be used by anyone. It focuses on Latino men, however, because it is partially an autobiographical account of the difficulties Dr. Abalos faced as a Latino man before and during his acceptance of transformation.

"There is a need to transform male-female relationships," he said. The book "has to do with the male waking up."

The patriarchal story has been played out for centuries in the Latino community, Dr. Abalos wrote, since the Conquest by Spain after the discovery of the American continents.

Once the stories that have led to the path of deformation have been dismissed – stories passed on for generations – Dr. Abalos said their needs to be other archetypes to replace them.

One way is to redirect machismo, the masculine energy of patriarchy, away from actions that hurt others in order to create new role models in the home for children.

"We used (machismo) primarily to dominate women, children and other men," Dr. Abalos said. "It was an ego thing. Now, let's take that energy and use it to fight injustice in the community."

And in that manner, Dr. Abalos purports, transformation extends beyond the home and works to create a better society.

One of the keys in doing away with patriarchy is through education, Dr. Abalos contended. In support of his theory, Dr. Abalos' personal transformation had led him to work to reform the education system in public school districts throughout New Jersey.

"Before 1940 only 1 percent of Mexican children in the southwest were in school," Dr. Abalos pointed out. He said this was done to perpetuate a large pool of uneducated manual laborers. With education, however, comes the knowledge of alternatives to the patriarchal lifestyle.

"There have always been alternatives," Dr. Abalos said. "People didn't always know what the alternatives were."

And that, Dr. Abalos said, is why he fights the way he does for children in the East Windsor Regional School District.

"Education helps tremendously" in the struggle for transformation, Dr. Abalos explained. "It helps people develop and think and see there are other ways to see the world and see female-male relationships."

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