Tackling Domestic Abuse, Man to Man

"For me as an indigenous person, hitting our wives is not part of our culture," said Arcenio Lopez. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Tired of seeing the effects of alcoholism and domestic abuse in their community, a group of men in Oxnard are getting together to do something about it.

They say domestic abuse is not just a women's problem. It's something that should be addressed openly among men, or “Entre Hombres," which is what they're calling their effort. The group has now trained 12 men, who will  engage local farmworkers on the issue.

As part of our community health series, Vital Signs, I spoke with the group's leader, Arcenio Lopez, executive director of the Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project. Our conversation below has been edited and condensed.

Jeremy Raff: How did you come up with this idea, Entre Hombres, a men’s group to address domestic violence?

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Arcenio Lopez: We started seeing more cases of DUIs. Often, the women come into our office saying, "My husband is in jail."

And then they start opening up. They say, "I’ve been having this issue for the last three, four, five years, and I feel like I can't move."

We were trying to support the women by connecting them to services. But eventually, we realized that we were doing superficial work and not going to the root of the problem. So we thought, OK, let’s start a men's group and start this kind of conversation.

We see men as part of the solution. And if we don't help them, we’ll never help all the women coming to our office saying, "I have this issue."

JR: What kind of conversation will you try to start?

AL: We’re not going to say directly, "This is a domestic violence men's group," or something. We want to talk about that, but also about how we should be raising our children in the United States, why our children should be in school and what kind of future we're looking for.

This is more about having conversations to identify those things that sometimes cause all the problems.

JR: What do you think causes the problems?

AL: I think machismo plays a role. You are a man and you have to have control in the house, and you shouldn’t express your feelings.

We’re farmworkers. It’s seasonal, so you work a few months, and then you can’t find any work. You are the only one earning money. You want to be a man and not show you are worried. You start feeling stressed, and the way you express it is being angry. You yell at your kids and wife and start drinking alcohol.

We want to let people know it’s normal to feel stressed and to talk about it. That there are other ways of dealing with it. I think that Entre Hombres is trying to talk about all of that stuff.

JR: Who is going to participate?

AL: Usually, the people who are trained to start these conversations are women, but we have just trained 12 men as promotores de salud (health promoters).

They will talk to men in parks, where they play soccer after work, and we have agreements with a few growers to talk to workers in the fields.

Arcenio Lopez leads a brainstorming session about how best to start conversations with men about abuse. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)
Arcenio Lopez leads a brainstorming session about how best to start conversations with men about abuse. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

JR: So how does Entre Hombres -- men just talking to one another -- help?

AL: This is also an opportunity to learn about our own culture.

I’m Mixteco myself; I speak Mixteco. For people who don't know, the Mixtec people are one of the native peoples in Mexico, like the Chumash or the Navajo in America.

Women played a strong role in our culture, something I didn’t learn in the Mexican school system growing up. Women were part of the conversation about what is best for families and also for society -- something that's not happening right now in our culture, something that got lost.

For me as an indigenous person, hitting our wives is not part of our culture.

Arcenio Lopez's bracelet reads "don't call me Qaxaquita," a common slur used against Mixtecos (Jeremy Raff/KQED).
Arcenio Lopez's bracelet says "don't call me Qaxaquita," a common slur used against Mixtecos (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Alcohol abuse is not part of our culture. It’s something that was imposed on us— it was a technique that the dominant culture [the Spanish] used to keep us oppressed, and to keep us a mess.

I think we need to learn our history because identity is a huge thing for you as a person. Without it, you are going to have a lot of problems in your life.

I don't think it will be the only solution, but I think it's important to know who you are.