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Coming of Age in Brownsville

by Published on
PHOTO COURTESY DOMINGO MARTINEZ
Martinez’s grandmother, Virginia Campos Rubio, in Matamoros, circa 1950.

It has always taken a lot of guts to write unfavorably about one’s family. Domingo Martinez, a Seattle-based writer who grew up in Brownsville, just might be one of the bravest memoirists around. In his first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, Martinez details his gritty upbringing by a philandering father who brags to his son about the women he’s bedded and a mother who spends much-needed money consulting a curandera before her husband’s attempts to smuggle pot. He describes two sisters who pretend to be white and wealthy by bleaching their brown hair blonde and referring to each other as “Mimi.”

In Martinez’s memoir, readers encounter the frustrations of a poor and brokenhearted Mexican-American kid who breaks into his old elementary school to weep in private and skips school to watch foreign films in a beachside hotel room. Martinez’s family doesn’t notice when he goes missing for weeks, and school officials tolerate his frequent truancy. The author describes his adolescence, in which he confesses a love of English New Wave bands and a hatred of American football, with a sense of humor that borders on the absurd. There are familial conflicts and schoolboy pratfalls. Martinez unwittingly tries to buy drugs from his uncles. In a show of disloyalty, he lets his brother get his ass handed to him in a schoolyard brawl.

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. But humor can’t mask the pain of poverty in this coming-of-age story.

Roberto Ontiveros is an artist, writer, and contributing editor to Latino Magazine whose fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and the anthology Hecho en Tejas.

Roberto Ontiveros is an artist, critic and fiction writer; his work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Threepenny Review, the Dallas Morning News, and others.