Domingo Martinez, author of the memoirs “The Boy Kings of Texas” and “My Heart is a Drunken Compass,” spoke about his struggles as a Mexican-American author on Feb. 26 in the Ecumenical Center.
The event was organized by the Arts and Ideas Committee as part of the “And Justice for All Series.” According to FSU’s website, the series is intended to prompt students to “consistently interrogate what we mean by ‘justice.’”
Martinez grew up in Brownsville, Texas, as a member of a Mexican-American family in the barrio. He linked anecdotes about his family and personal life with broader themes of racism and classism.
“What my place is here, standing in front of you and in the developing pantheon of black and Latino writers, is mostly to complicate your assumptions,” he said.
Martinez read his short story, “The Mimis.” The story focuses on his two sisters, Marge and Mary, who decided to “completely reinvent themselves” by dying their hair blonde, calling each other “Mimi” and acting like white, wealthy Americans, despite their class and ethnicity.
According to Martinez, the rest of the family “played along” with the sisters until the family trucking company failed and the sisters had to become migrant workers in California vineyards. When this happened, Marge and Mary dropped the act.
“Sadly,” said Martinez, “I think it was childhood’s end for the Mimis.”
During a Q&A session, one member of the audience asked Martinez, “Do you think the color of your skin has an affect on what you can do in life?”
“I now think it’s all classism,” Martinez said. When he was growing up, however, he would blame unequal treatment on racism. “But then,” he added, “there would always be this influx of incredibly wealthy Mexicans who would come in, and they were treated just as well as everyone else – all the white people.”
Despite this, Martinez said he still believes racism is “alive and prevalent, everywhere.”
Martinez described his life as a Mexican-American author.
He said he decided to write his own book after listening to Maya Angelou speak at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She spoke about wanting to read a book about a young black girl in Chicago that reflected her experience. Martinez realized that nobody was writing about his narrative, about “drinking, fighting and screwing on the border of Texas.” Martinez decided that he would be the one to write that narrative.
His journey to become an author was difficult. Martinez never graduated college – a decision he said was a major challenge and setback. He had never taken a writing class and knew nobody in the publishing industry.
However, he used this setback as motivation to work harder.
“I was going to get here somehow,” he said. “I just took the hardest frickin’ path to here that I could possibly create for myself.”
His hard work has paid off. Early in his career, Martinez is already a New York Times best-selling author. Also, his memoir, “The Boy Kings of Texas,” is in the process of being reimagined and converted into an HBO series.
Martinez’s work has also made him a controversial figure, because his memoirs have called attention to some negative aspects of Mexican-American culture. Some have even called him a “self-hating Mexican-American.”
Despite facing criticism for his work, Martinez is resilient.
“I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘self-hatred,’” he said. “I think any healthy personality type actually has a good dose of self-hatred in them. You can call it self-hatred, or you can call it ambition.”