A Diversity Dialogue was held in the Multicultural Center on Thursday, Feb. 19 to discuss the life and works of Mexican-American author Domingo Martinez.
Professor Carlos Martinez, an FSU academic diversity fellow in the English Department, led the event and detailed Domingo Martinez’s early and often difficult childhood.
Domingo Martinez grew up on the Mexican and US border in Brownsville, Texas, according to Carlos Martinez. He explained that Domingo Martinez was a bright student who struggled to find direction in the impoverished community he lived in and seemed like “a fish out of water.” Carlos Martinez said that universities near the Texas-Mexican border lacked proper funding until around the late 1980s.
“So this is a snapshot into a kind of author who really grew up in a impoverished, difficult circumstance on the border and has managed to overcome so many of these obstacles and make it,” Carlos Martinez said
Students were handed excerpts from Domingo Martinez’s memoir, “The Boy Kings of Texas.” In the excerpt, Domingo Martinez recounted how his sisters pretended to be blonde, white American girls for a period of their lives. Students followed along in their handouts while they listened to Domingo Martinez read this excerpt out loud in an episode of a “This American Life” podcast. They did so to hear the tone and inflections Domingo Martinez used to speak his written words.
Domingo Martinez’s sisters believed that being white was a defining characteristic of wealth and success in America. They put this idea into practice when they attempted to transform themselves into blonde, white American girls and called themselves “The Mimis.” However, after being sent to California to work as grape pickers to help pay the bills, they stopped referring to themselves as “The Mimis.” The excerpt closed with Domingo Martinez expressing how, in the end, his sisters’ fantasy made his family feel American.
Following the presentation, a discussion was then had concerning the text and a focus was placed on how accents, inflections and race play a role in how people see each other.
Mark Sinons, a freshman, said he appreciated the way in which Martinez spoke and used his voice to convey his sisters’ voices and found the journey of finding themselves interesting.
Carlos Martinez expanded on Sinons’ point and made the observation that when Domingo Martinez quoted his sisters, he made them sound like Mexican-American girls rather than young white American women.
Carlos Martinez stated that people are often judged by the manner in which they speak and those with different forms of speech are thought as “different.” He used his own life story as an example.
“So I’m from San Antonio, and when we would meet people from Laredo, you knew immediately when you would meet people from the border. They would say, ‘Realeee? Come on, realeee?’ and that stigmatizing sound created everything anybody needed to know about you in that room. And it was really hard to overcome that sound. The sound of your voice. Making all these people judge you before you had a chance to actually explain yourself,” Carlos Martinez said.
Campbell Marchant, a freshman, made the observation that perhaps Domingo Martinez himself had a fascination with being white. Marchant also said he believed that race shouldn’t determine someone’s outcome and people shouldn’t stereotype themselves due to their race.
“By profiling yourself you are putting yourself at a disadvantage,” he said.
Kathy Martinez, the director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, observed that race and class are often intertwined and that the author and his sisters may have just been trying to upgrade their social class.
“It seemed like this group wanted to assimilate to a higher class. They wanted Jordache jeans. They wanted labels. They wanted money. Isn’t that the American dream?” Kathy Martinez said.
“There’s that intersection of class and race that I find interesting too. You don’t want to speak a certain way because people will ascribe you to a lower class and then further, a lower racial category,” she said.