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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir [Kindle Edition]

Domingo Martinez
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (234 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become "real" Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is really un-mined territory in the memoir genre that gives in-depth insight into a previously unexplored corner of America.

Editorial Reviews


"A finely detailed, sentimental family scrapbook inscribed with love."
- Kirkus Reviews
"Martinez's eye for the absurdity ... helps him avoid the clichés and oversimplifications pervasive in the mainstream media's take on the border. Though Martinez's memoir is largely about growing up outside Brownsville, it deals with much more than the usual stuff that sends people to shrinks. The book also offers plenty of material for readers interested in broader issues such as immigration, border violence, and other topical matters fronterizo writers have to deal with if they want to get published. But Martinez's sharp wit, deployed even during the most painful moments, distinguishes The Boy Kings of Texas from much of the writing on these subjects."
- David Dorado Romo, Texas Monthly
"Old-fashioned, high-quality storytelling makes Domingo Martinez's first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, completely captivating. Martinez delivers a lyrical and unblinking account of family life in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The characters in Martinez's memoir are brutal as often as they are lovable.... While it is hard to describe poverty in a lighthearted manner, Martinez chooses humor and wisdom over tragedy in his storytelling. "
 -- Caitlin Reid, Literary Review


“Domingo Martinez writes like an angel—an avenging angel who instead of bringing wrath to a fallen world redeems it by using beautiful prose to turn the most awful and gritty realities into transcendent gems. This is also a significant historical document, a first person account that reveals one corner of America as it has seldom been seen. What a voice, what a story, what a testament to the transforming power of self-knowledge and the right choice of words.”
—Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, winner of the National Book Award

“ . . . the narrative brims with candid, palpable emotion . . . Martinez lushly captures the mood of the era and illuminates the struggles of a family hobbled by poverty and a skinny Latino boy becoming a man amid a variety of tough circumstances. A finely detailed, sentimental family scrapbook inscribed with love.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Old-fashioned, high-quality storytelling makes an excerpt from Domingo Martinez's first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, completely captivating. Martinez delivers a lyrical and unblinking account of family life in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The characters in Martinez's memoir are brutal as often as they are lovable. . . . While it is hard to describe poverty in a lighthearted manner, Martinez chooses humor and wisdom over tragedy in his storytelling."

“[The Boy Kings of Texas] . . . offers experiences that readers will find informative and emotionally engaging. . . . Empathetic teens will be engaged by Martinez’s emotionally rich story.” --Booklist


Straight Outta Brownsville

Domingo Martinez was born in Texas, but he left as soon as he could.
His very funny memoir explains why.

by David Dorado Romo

JULY 2012

Photograph by Adam Voorhes

What do you do if you were born and raised in a neglected rural barrio just north of the Mexican border? If you’re Domingo Martinez, the answer is obvious: after you graduate from high school, you leave Texas and settle down in a city as close to the Canadian border as possible. Seattle, for instance. Onceyou’re there, you find a therapist named Sally and tell her about your experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family and a screwed-up state.

The stories Martinez told Sally, which are included in his first book, The Boy Kings of Texas (Lyons Press, $16.95), are so funny and poignant that his therapy should have been offered free of charge.
Better yet, Sally should have paid him for the pleasure of listening.
If there’s any justice in the publishing world, there will turn out to be plenty of people eager to read about her client’s childhood.

Though Martinez’s memoir is largely about growing up outside Brownsville with an abusive father and an uninvolved mother, it deals with much more than the usual stuff that sends people to shrinks.
There’s advice on everything from how to cook tamales to the best way to transport marijuana from Brownsville to Houston. The book also offers plenty of material for readers interested in broader issues such as immigration, border violence, and other topical matters fronterizo writers have to deal with if they want to get published.
But Martinez’s sharp wit, deployed even during the most painful moments, distinguishes The Boy Kings of Texasfrom much of the writing on these subjects.

At the heart of the book is Martinez’s complicated relationship with his father. According to his son, Domingo Martinez Sr. was a boorish truck driver prone to drunken fits of rage whom Domingo Jr., or June, as he was known, describes as “a tyrannical toddler.” Domingo Sr., Martinez writes, liked to brag to his sons about his marital infidelities and whipped his boys regularly with little or no pretext.
June was repulsed by the weaknesses and insecurities hidden beneath his father’s veneer of machismo. He couldn’t wait to get away. “In all of his life, all of his choices,” Martinez writes about his father, “I was using him as a reverse compass.” (In the book’s afterword, Martinez notes that his father has since gotten sober, and he expresses some degree of sympathy for the man.)

Ironically, the toughest member of the Martinez “patriarchy” is Martinez’s grandmother. Her heroic feats before crossing into the U.S.
as a young woman included killing two ocelots with a tree branch and fending off a would-be rapist with a well-placed log to the head. As a boy, Martinez wasn’t sure whether to believe these stories until he personally witnessed Gramma pound to death not one but two rattlesnakes with a shovel. Now in her late eighties, Gramma might just owe her longevity to having avoided doctors like the plague throughout her life and turning instead to traditional herbs, prayers to the Virgin and Pancho Villa, and the occasional squirt of WD-40 to relieve her arthritis.

Martinez’s sisters are in their own way just as resourceful as Gramma.
In one chapter he describes how, in the eighties, his older sisters dropped the excessive, foreign-sounding syllables from their names and reinvented themselves as upper-class WASPs. Margarita became Marge; Maria became Mare. They dyed their hair blond; refused to wear anything without Esprit, Sergio Valente, or Gloria Vanderbilt labels; pretended not to speak a word of Spanish; and began addressing each other simply as “Mimi.” “The Mimis had made their decision to be two blue-blooded, trust-funded tennis bunnies from Connecticut, accidentally living in Brownsville, Texas, with us: a poor Mexican family they had somehow befriended while undergoing some Dickensian series of misfortunes,” Martinez writes. The sisters’ Mimi fantasy was a way to cope with the messages of inferiority they encountered in the “sinister world of teenage fashionistas, which, in Brownsville, was always tinged with border-town racism.”

Martinez sees the pain that lies beneath such masquerades, but he also appreciates their double-edged nature. Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery—it can also be a form of mockery, albeit in this case an unconscious one. Cultural assimilation, in a sense, is an elaborate, lifelong bit of performance art. Even as a kid, Martinez felt the attendant ambiguities that come from being one of the eternally “in-between” people who belong to two different places and don’t entirely fit in either one. “They felt I was not one of them, the Mexican kids, nor was I one of the others, the white kids, and so I adapted,” he writes. “But I didn’t think anyone was capable of understanding, so instead I parceled it out, compartmentalized.”

And though he was compelled to escape South Texas’s stifling heat, entrenched classism, and big hair, he insists that “I can make fun of Texas, but if you’re not from Texas, then you may not. Sure, ours was an abusive relationship, but it was an abuse that grew out of odd circumstances.”

Martinez’s eye for the absurdity of those circumstances helps him avoid the clichés and oversimplifications pervasive in the mainstream media’s take on the border. Though his sense of humor does get him in trouble sometimes. At a house party in Kingsville one night, a frat boy notices that Martinez is attracting female attention with his quick-witted repartee and grumbles, “Give a Mexican some tequila and he gets funny.” This was an extremely insulting thing to say—Martinez is hilarious even when he’s sober—and leads to one of the book’s many brawls.

Martinez’s ability to draw humor out of hardship runs in the family.
One year, when the Martinez clan traveled to California to work in the grape harvest, the dashing Mimis transformed themselves into Valley girls. They were the “hippest, cutest, best-dressed migrant workers of that year, and very likely for many years to come,” Martinez explains.
“The Mimis had been capable of creating a real sort of magic around them, enchanting both people and places, in such a way that you could be looking at the same dreary landscape as them, the same terrible and hopeless event, and while you might be miserable and bitter, they would be beaming, enthralled, and enthusiastically hopeful. And then, if you got near them, or were blessed enough to maybe talk to them, you would walk away feeling the same way they felt, too.”

The same kind of magic shows up everywhere in The Boy Kings of Texas.
The ironic thing is that as a young man Martinez was sure there was no art, no culture, and nothing to do in Brownsville. Yet his book offers evidence that the richest raw material for writers often comes from those parts of the world where there is absolutely nothing to do. Go figure.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2781 KB
  • Print Length: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot Press (July 3, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0086T96TI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,717 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unapologetically Honest and Revealing November 4, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Martinez's book is about a young family born into the unique clash of cultures in South Texas where the children must learn to consolidate their cultures. Their family gives them the understanding that being American/white/speaking English is superior to being Mexican/speaking Spanish and are callous and manipulative when the author does not adhere to the horrid machismo customs that they associate with being men, not with being Mexican. These themes are likely familiar to those growing up in South Texas, but the author was born in the exact circumstances that would exaggerate these problems for him - lack of power balance between the parents, young family, poor, being introspective, being male.

I highly recommend this book for anyone. Some of his experiences are potent, but he is so good at providing relevant events from his childhood, that you come to understand, and even predict, the actions he will take next, even if they wouldn't be your own. I found myself cheering him on but understanding why he would sometimes falter.

Mr. Martinez is introspective, even at an early age, which puts the reader in his head during some pretty substantial events. He allows you to understand his experiences and the conflict between knowing what is best and his own impulses. Also, he's pretty funny. He unexpectedly made me laugh out loud like three or four times.

I read this thing in less than two days. I usually enjoy reading Mexican-American literature, but I find that the themes usually center around the differences/problems between Mexican-Americans and whites or the rest of the US.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Picked up after hearing the excerpt on this American life September 21, 2012
By Caitlin
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
He has such a unique style that's perfect for memoir. There's a lot of wit here even when he's describing grim things. So so interesting
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking and Hilarious August 22, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Domingo Martinez takes us into a world that I have never visited before - nor even knew existed. The story of his growing up is equal measure hilarious and heartbreaking. This story is the "Angela's Ashes" of the barrio. I felt as if Mr.Martinez was in my living room because of his accessible and conversational tone. But so many phrases leapt out at me, making me smile at the turn of words. Lucky for us, Domingo survived his childhood with a keen sense of humor, in fact one must assume that helped him survive! This book is a remarkable first work and one that explores an important part of our American culture, heretofore, almost unknown.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Mari
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a poignant and definitive peek at the life of a young man in Brownsville,TX and the suffocating effect this place can be.
I read this book in about 4 days and would have finished but I had to put the book down for a couple of days because it hit too close to home.
Having grown up in the "Valley," I seriously feel for Domingo's plight of wanting to get out and do more. The heat is overwhelming and the view of life is simply, repressing!
Domingo's accurate depicition of the macho attitude of virtually all males in a typical Mexican-American family hit me right in the gut at how accurate they become. The men actually come out of the page and become attached to your psyche.
The "tough Gramma" figure is ever present in any Mexican-American family and can seriously infect your subconcious and you happy you are in the present and not in the presence of Gramma and her repressive, guilt-laden conversations.
The depiction of the family dynamic is so spot-on, I needed to remember the spell from Harry Potter where you can point the wand at your brain and the memories follow and drop into a container, never to be relived unless you want them to.
This book is an excellent memoir full of truth and confusion from a boy that just needed to get out!
I would highly recommend this for anyone who has ever felt a repressed childhood or teenagehood. These feelings are true and real.
Domingo Martinez writes from the heart and from the mind of these "Valley" kids who do not know that there is something better past the Sarita checkpoint!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not just border story November 19, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I grew up in Idaho and this is my story. Macho attitudes live large in rural communities. We are a total white community that had families of five or more children. Farmers didn't need to import outsides workers in that environment. Young, macho and and what we called environmentally stupid. I thought that the story of the sisters getting all the attention and money hit home the best but, the story hit my home in so many ways.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreakingly beautiful July 13, 2012
By tinat
Masterful storytelling. A family dealing with its personal demons and the realities of being poor and disenfranchised in America. Mr Martinez writes his story in a gritty unvarnished prose that will captivate its readers from beginning to end and leave them looking forward to future works from this writer. Tops on my list.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Boy Kings of Texas November 5, 2012
By dcFL
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I always enjoy understanding nuances of cultures with which I am not completely familiar. Given the numerous articles about our border problems with Mexico, I decided to read this book. It is excellent! I understand actions and attitudes that had puzzled me. You will feel as if you are a real insider. I highly recommend this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Success Story
The book held my interest and offered some insights about the Mexican culture in south Texas, an area that I have visited. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Diane
5.0 out of 5 stars The boy kings of texas
Thoroughly honest remembrance of the thoughts, feelings and psychological impact of growing up as a poor class Mexican from a border town in Texas. Read more
Published 10 days ago by nancy
5.0 out of 5 stars Every chapter a gem!
Touching, amusing, horrifying memoir of a boy coming to terms with his family's impoverished macho culture. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Caroline Muir
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
A terrific memoir of a young boy growing up in a Texas border town and the culture of that community. Highly recommended.
Published 17 days ago by SR - Maryland
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story but rather repetitious.
Interesting story but rather repetitious.
Published 26 days ago by Bobbi
4.0 out of 5 stars Also a great story of survival and desire to improve one's lot ...
Well-written story of a Mexican-American family in South Texas. I've lived in South Texas for almost 20 years and this book helped me understand a lot about the culture that I... Read more
Published 27 days ago by su
1.0 out of 5 stars The Boy Kings of Texas
Very disappointing read. That it won an award astonished me. I grew up in Texas. This book paints a very skewed view of Texas. Actually I give it 0 STARS.
Published 28 days ago by joe j. mcclanahan
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this one
must read for book clubs and lovers of "left of center" novels. I really enjoyed this one.
Published 1 month ago by Judith A Schneider
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
It was good and hope it has a follow up to let us know what happene to Domingo..
Published 1 month ago by sharon wright
5.0 out of 5 stars but easy flowing
interesting, not fast paced, but easy flowing read
Published 2 months ago by Renee D. White
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More About the Author

Domingo Martinez is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Boy Kings of Texas and was a finalist for The National Book Award in 2012. The Boy Kings of Texas is a Gold Medal Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Award, a Non-Fiction Finalist for The Washington State Book Awards, and was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.

The Boy Kings of Texas was optioned for an HBO series through Salma Hayek's production company, Ventana Rosa.

His work has appeared in Epiphany Literary Journal, Seattle Weekly, Texas Monthly, The New Republic, Saveur Magazine, Huisache Literary Magazine and he is a regular contributor to This American Life. He has also appeared on NPR's All Things Considered and The Diane Rehm show, and was the recipient of the Bernard De Voto Fellowship for Non-Fiction at Bread Loaf Writer's Colony in 2013. Mr Martinez is also a fundraiser and spokesperson for 826 Seattle, the literacy project founded by Dave Eggers.

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