This past weekend, 50-year-old boxer Hector Luis "el Macho" Camacho was buried in St. Raymond's cemetery in the Bronx, NY following his death after a drive-by-shooting on November 20 in his hometown of Bayamón, Puerto Rico.
In death, just as in his life, Camacho and his family, friends, and alleged lovers have been pulled into a media sideshow that perpetuates stereotypes rather than celebrates successes. At the center of this is Camacho's "machonalidad," the intersection of his identity as a boxer and a Latino, specifically a Puerto Rican man. This is more than garden variety machismo. This is about being man enough and Puerto Rican enough.
See also: Hector "Macho" Camacho (1962-2012)
Straddling national expectations and trite assumptions imposed by colonialism, Camacho's untimely death should be an opportunity to explore the growing violence on the island and its causes, as well as the role of Latinos as participants and spectacles in the sports world. What we have instead is media sensationalizing a personal and community loss by playing up every stereotype.
The Washington Post, ESPN (ESPN is owned by Disney, ABC News' parent company) and other outlets jumped on a "catfight" between two alleged girlfriends, Cynthia Castillo and Gloria Fernandez, at the wake in Puerto Rico. While the prize fighter couldn't pull any punches, the media was thrilled to report on "wild" women throwing food and scratching over their deceased womanizing Latin lover.
Violence is the assumed nature of Puerto Rican men and women. Their anger,exoticized by TMZ which pointed out the use of their native Spanish language ("and boy was she pissed! So pissed she couldn't even speak English!"). Sports and gossip networks honed in on the "garish" style of the dead, his white suit, large gold crucifix, and gold trademark "Macho" necklace as well as the clothing of people in attendance at the wake, including an "Aztec Warrior" child.
Aztec, Puerto Rican, Taino, Mexican. What¹s the difference anyway when Camacho and other Latinos in sports and media exist for entertainment? Take for example Oscar de la Hoya, who gained more exposure for wearing women's clothing and his battle with drugs and alcohol than for his philanthropic work and own boxing legacy.
Forget Camacho's rags to riches story, arriving into the projects of El Barrio, New York City at age three from Puerto Rico with his mother and four siblings. Most English language media have painted his youth as "delinquent" and credit boxing as saving him from a life of street crime. But even in his youth it seems that Camacho was given an identity to live up to and keep up with as opposed to being able to create one for himself. He didn't baptize himself "macho". That nickname was allegedly given to him by a New York City teacher who is said to have guided Camacho towards boxing.
Camacho proved a talented fighter, winning super lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight world titles in the 1980¹s and early 1990's. Out of 88 professional fights over his 30 year career, 79 were wins. But Camacho was a showman as well as a sportsman and perhaps that was his own undoing. Chanting "It's Macho time" before fights was more than a cry to intimidate opponents, including Felix Trinidad, Julio Cesar Chavez and Sugar Ray Leonard. "Macho Time" became a brand for him to set himself apart and a way for him to market himself once his fighting days were over.
In the ring, Camacho donned flamboyant outfits complemented by his signature over-the-forehead curl and gold jewelry. Outside the ring, he appeared on Puerto Rican variety shows like Super Sabado singing, dancing, and play fighting, After hanging up his gloves his showmanship morphed into a sort of Latino minstrel show, in part due to limited options available to men of color in general, but especially in sports and media. He appeared on reality and gossip shows including Univision¹s Mira Quien Baila and El Gordo y la Flaca. Earlier this year he starred in his own dating show web series, Es Macho Time!, where women "competed" over him.
How much of this was part of maintaining a certain lifestyle for himself and his family? He was proud of being able to support his four children, his siblings and his mother. "I love my mother - I love buying her things, I love giving her money," he was filmed saying in a recently-released tribute video.
Demons of crime, drugs, and violence followed Camacho throughout his personal life, both as victim and perpetrator. He did a short stint in jail as a teen for burglary and more recently was shot in a carjacking attempt in Puerto Rico in 2011. At the time of his death, he was awaiting trial for allegedly physically abusing one of his sons. But the demons didn't die with Camacho. The media in both the U.S. and Puerto Rico hungrily perpetuates the telenovela we all love to watch as a society feeds upon the clichés.
Meanwhile In El Barrio, the Bronx, and Bayamón, fans lined up to pay their final respects with a question lingering, can a Puerto Rican boxer ever rise to be the cultural hero that Muhammad Ali was or does the current state of sports and media relegate our own to be perpetual clowns in life and in death?
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.