Author of 'The Boy Kings of Texas' reflects on border life

By by kathleen duncan
Dec. 12, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.

"The Boy Kings of Texas" opens with border justice. Domingo Martinez's family dog, Blackie, beloved by all, is ripped to pieces by the neighbor's wild dogs. "Lo reventaron," Martinez writes, "It's part ripping, part tearing, but with an elastic resistance, like pulling apart a rubbery, living membrane - an image like bleeding rubber." After the family buries Blackie, Martinez watches his father drive away for work, and shoot each of the neighbor's dogs as they run after his truck. At the end of the massacre, Martinez reflects, "I don't ever remember feeling so proud of my father again."

Martinez grew up in a poor Mexican-American family in the border town of Brownsville. His memoir consists of a collection of stories about their family struggling to find their place in their community and the world at large. Being light-skinned and speaking mostly English, his family doesn't identify with Mexican culture. It takes a few years of childhood before Martinez even realizes that he isn't white.

Each chapter explores a different piece of Martinez's family life. His coarse, abrasive father totes drugs across the border, using Martinez and his mother as shotgun to check the security before following behind them with a truck full of marijuana. Gramma casts spells and looking into orbs to predict the future outcomes of their family's exploits. His brother, Dan, fights in a dusty road with a random driver, in the school yard and in a bar years later.

Through Martinez's childhood, we explore the divide that occurs when children grow up in a border town - two languages, two cultures, the illusion of these two completely different lives, Mexican or American, each with different expectations.

The moment this divide really hits home is when he talks about "the Mimis." His two older sisters Marge and Mare become "the Mimis" when they dye their hair blonde, adopt the valley girl accent and start wearing designer fashions in the hope of seeming "as white as possible." One summer, they are sent by their parents to California to pick grapes alongside other migrant workers, but don't realize the reality of the situation.

The Mimis are just excited to go to California and be real valley girls. Then, as reality sinks in under the blazing sun while doing manual labor, they have to give up their fashions and illusions. With this, we see the end of the Mimis and a childhood fantasy.

Martinez's writing style is different. There are points where even he isn't sure why or how something occurred, just that it did because it exists in his memories. His recollections through the years are full of dark humor, sadness and love with an underlying thread of violence throughout.

The "Boy Kings of Texas" is a visceral and touching memoir about a little Mexican-American boy growing up in South Texas, fighting with everything he has to become a man.



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