“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 This is also a significant historical document, a first person account that reveals one corner of America as it has seldom been seen.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.”
“. . . Seattle writer Domingo Martinez's memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas, is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of a sensitive soul who grows up in the macho barrio of Brownsville, Texas. . . . Martinez has a gift for storytelling, with alternately good-natured and sardonic wit, and quirky pop culture reference points.” —Seattle Times
“With The Boy Kings of Texas, a new and important truth about those Rio Grande Valley border towns like Brownsville and McAllen has finally emerged, one that takes into account the brainy boys of the barrio who read Cyrano de Bergerac between waiting tables at the Olive Garden, and play hooky at the Holiday Inn in order to discuss foreign films. Sure, there have always been stories about smart kids who want to leave town or risk going nowhere in life. In the Valley, where there is also a high chance of succumbing to border violence, Martinez unveils the lives of smart kids who feel they need to leave town or else simply die of boredom.” —Dallas News
“The Boy Kings of Texas is a spirited confession in the tradition of smart, self-deprecating comedies about young manhood like Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That and early Philip Roth. Martinez weaves artful comic asides with anecdotes about poverty so crushing that it leads to the death of his friends.” —Texas Observer
“This compelling, often heart-warming book explores how Martinez and his family tried to find their place in Brownsville. . . . The Boy Kings of Texas alternates between serious, often violent stories, such as the uncle who beats up Martinez in a cocaine-fueled rage, and humorous stories showing his family's softer, loving side. Often, the most moving chapters combine humor with a dark undertone. For example, Martinez writes about how his sisters dealt with their own feelings of inferiority by creating two blonde, Anglo alter-egos.” —San Antonio Express-News
“There is no easy resolution to this personal journey told through a series of anecdotes that range from hilarious to heartbreaking. Martinez simply splays out the different chapters of his life with a raw honesty that dispels the myth of the big happy Hispanic family and critiques the codes of machismo that lead to reckless choices. An incredibly engaging read and full of colorful characters that keep the writing vibrant. . . .” —El Paso Times
“Martinez’s story is heartrending and uncomfortable, but he maintains a surprising sense of humor that keeps his reader cringing and rooting for him. A starkly honest memoir of growing up on the Texas-Mexican border in the 1970s and ‘80s, with a wry twist.” —Shelf Awareness
“[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
TEXAS MONTHLY BOOK REVIEW
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
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 differen...