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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir
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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

3.9 36
by Domingo Martinez

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Lyrical and gritty, thisauthenticcoming-of-age story about aborder-town family in Brownsville, Texas,
insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America.

Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the



Lyrical and gritty, thisauthenticcoming-of-age story about aborder-town family in Brownsville, Texas,
insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America.

Domingo Martinez lays bare his interior and exterior worlds as he struggles to make sense of the violent and the ugly, along with the beautiful and the loving, in a Texas border town in the 1980s. Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes,this book delves into the enduring, complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel.Itfeatures a cast of memorable characters, including his gun-hoarding former farmhand, Gramma, and “the Mimis”— two of his older sisters who for a short, glorious time manage to transform themselves from poor Latina adolescents into upper-class white girls. Martinez provides a glimpse into a society where children are traded like commerce, physical altercations routinely solve problems, drugs are rampant, sex is often crude, and people depend on the family witch doctor for advice. Charming, painful, and enlightening, this book examinesthe traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
[Martinez's] stories are as eye-poppingly and bruisingly painful as they are funny, and if his family's sore at him after this book is published, it sounds as if he has a lot of practice dealing with that.
—Valerie Sayers
Publishers Weekly
Opening with the brutal tale of the murder of a beloved pet avenged, Seattle journalist Martinez's memoir of growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s along the Mexican border is an emotional roller coaster rendered in exquisite detail. Struggling with his cultural identity and the usual kaleidoscope of adolescent emotions, Martinez felt like a perpetual outsider. Even more marginalized by his family's emotional reserve and propensity for violence (physical as well as emotional), he eventually finds solace in substances before moving to Seattle to live with his older brother in hopes of a more peaceful and productive life. But old habits die hard. Once there, Martinez finds himself sucked into an emotional whirlpool once again; the violence he thought he left in Texas follows him, as do his demons. Though written with a strong, clear voice, Martinez goes into often lengthy digressions, frequently losing his momentum and, occasionally, the thread of conversation between writer and reader. Still, this fascinating and sometimes horrifying account of growing up Hispanic in a Texas border town is an artfully rendered take on family, community, and one man's journey to adulthood. (July)
From the Publisher
"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."—Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, winner of the National Book Award" . . . the narrative brims with candid, palpable emotion . . . Martinez lushly captures the mood of the era and illuminates the struggles of a family hobbled by poverty and a skinny Latino boy becoming a man amid a variety of tough circumstances. A finely detailed, sentimental family scrapbook inscribed with love." —Kirkus Reviews ". . . [A]n emotional roller coaster rendered in exquisite detail."—Publishers Weekly"Old-fashioned, high-quality storytelling makes an excerpt from Domingo Martinez's first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, completely captivating. Martinez delivers a lyrical and unblinking account of family life in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The characters in Martinez's memoir are brutal as often as they are lovable. . . . While it is hard to describe poverty in a lighthearted manner, Martinez chooses humor and wisdom over tragedy in his storytelling."—NewPages.com". . . 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." —BooklistTEXAS MONTHLY BOOK REVIEWStraight Outta BrownsvilleDomingo Martinez was born in Texas, but he left as soon as he could.His very funny memoir explains why.by David Dorado RomoJULY 2012Photograph by Adam VoorhesWhat 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 different places and don't entirely fit in either one. "They felt I was not one of them, the Mexican kids, nor was I one of the others, the white kids, and so I adapted," he writes. "But I didn't think anyone was capable of understanding, so instead I parceled it out, compartmentalized."And though he was compelled to escape South Texas's stifling heat, entrenched classism, and big hair, he insists that "I can make fun of Texas, but if you're not from Texas, then you may not. Sure, ours was an abusive relationship, but it was an abuse that grew out of odd circumstances."Martinez's eye for the absurdity of those circumstances helps him avoid the clichés and oversimplifications pervasive in the mainstream media's take on the border. Though his sense of humor does get him in trouble sometimes. At a house party in Kingsville one night, a frat boy notices that Martinez is attracting female attention with his quick-witted repartee and grumbles, "Give a Mexican some tequila and he gets funny." This was an extremely insulting thing to say—Martinez is hilarious even when he's sober—and leads to one of the book's many brawls.Martinez's ability to draw humor out of hardship runs in the family.One year, when the Martinez clan traveled to California to work in the grape harvest, the dashing Mimis transformed themselves into Valley girls. They were the "hippest, cutest, best-dressed migrant workers of that year, and very likely for many years to come," Martinez explains."The Mimis had been capable of creating a real sort of magic around them, enchanting both people and places, in such a way that you could be looking at the same dreary landscape as them, the same terrible and hopeless event, and while you might be miserable and bitter, they would be beaming, enthralled, and enthusiastically hopeful. And then, if you got near them, or were blessed enough to maybe talk to them, you would walk away feeling the same way they felt, too."The same kind of magic shows up everywhere in The Boy Kings of Texas.The ironic thing is that as a young man Martinez was sure there was no art, no culture, and nothing to do in Brownsville. Yet his book offers evidence that the richest raw material for writers often comes from those parts of the world where there is absolutely nothing to do. Go figure.
Kirkus Reviews
Seattle-based Latino journalist Martinez recalls his youthful adventures in the 1980s romping around the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Though dirt poor, the author's Mexican-American family continually demonstrated resilience, solidarity and humor. His parents, "children themselves" right out of high school, began having kids in the late-'60s. In a household of "Sisyphean wetbacks" struggling to make ends meet, Martinez was the youngest. Much like his siblings, he was light-skinned, didn't identify with Mexican culture, and spoke English, an anomaly in a primarily Spanish-speaking region. From his family's crowded house emerge resonant stories about a tough, gun-toting, spell-casting Gramma; the death of the family dog and his father's swift retribution; his two older sisters, "the Mimis," who dyed their hair blonde, dressed in designer labels and adopted a "Valley Girl" affectation; his hard-drinking, abrasive father's drug trafficking; shenanigans with friends; turbulence with close older brother Dan; and melancholy recollections of beatings from his parents and what he can remember of their sordid histories. At more than 450 pages, the personal remembrances may prove wearisome, even as the narrative brims with candid, palpable emotion. Still, Martinez lushly captures the mood of the era and illuminates the struggles of a family hobbled by poverty and a skinny Latino boy becoming a man amid a variety of tough circumstances. A finely detailed, sentimental family scrapbook inscribed with love.

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt



Lyons Press

Copyright © 2012 Domingo Martinez
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7627-7919-2

Chapter One


"They were children themselves, my, mother and father, when they started having children in 1967 on the border of South Texas. Dad had just graduated from high school and in a panic asked my, another to marry, him because he wanted to avoid the Vietnam War draft. Mom had eagerly, agreed, in order to escape something even worse.

"They had three girls in three successive summers, and were then happily, surprised by a boy the following ,year. Having done her duty in producing a son for her husband, Mom was allowed some ten months off from incubating yet another child. Or maybe Dad had finally discovered condoms. Perhaps they'd bought a television. Whatever the reason, there was a full eighteen months before I was born, the fifth child and a second son, at least for a while.

Most of the kids had been born in August or September, roughly, nine months after Thanksgiving, when the Dallas Cowboys traditionally, played. Dad had been a Cowboys fan since their inception, traditionally, their winning streak in the late 1960s coincided with the conception of most of his children. The year I was next to be born, the Cowboys didn't win, so I was conceived sometime during grain season, when he was maybe flush with cash and had come home drunk, which is possibly, the reason I hate sports and am very, fond of bread.

* * *

Collectively, we have vague and dreamlike memories from those early, days of the burgeoning family, but one stands out for all of us. In it, Dad surprises us one afternoon by bringing home the smallest puppy we had ever seen. We stand around him and watch him feeding it with a bottle, and after a while he cups it in the palms of his hands and offers it to one of my, sisters while the rest of us watched this and cooed enviously: "There was no sway, she was going to keep this dog to herself, we had all subconsciously, decided.

The puppy was black, with tiny, brown feet, and as we had only recently been introduced to English when the oldest kids entered kindergarten, we were limited on possibilities when it came time to name it. The name "Blackie" caught on quickly, and we were immensely satisfied with our creativity, at giving the dog a name in English.

We were big on names back then. We each went by a nom de guerre as kids. The eldest, Sylvia, was called la flaca, or "the skinny, girl." Margarita, the second oldest, was Tata, or Tita when we were feeling kinder to her, because as toddlers, Sylvia would look at her and yell, "Ta! Ta! Ta! Ta! Ta!"—in Spanish, of course.

The third girl, Maria de los Angeles, was called la guera, or "blondie," in a way, because she was fair skinned and born with light hair. My, older brother Daniel was called ¡Denny!, always with that exclamation point. Dan grew up startled. And I was, as Domingo Martinez, Jr., called Yuñior, eventually, to be called "June," when we made the switch to English.

I was a boy, named "June."

This must have been about 1976, maybe 1977. When we got him, Blackie, a Chihuahua blend mixed with something equally, rodentian, was still just a few weeks old. I remember we tried our best as a family to be as good to the dog as possible, even though I was just four or five years old. The dog was a new project; the pack of children had never quite come together like that before, and we tried to outdo one another showing kindness to the new family pet.

The dog, on the other hand, very likely would have disagreed, because in a family with five children under nine years of age, and parents who were no more than children themselves, Blackie must have thought he was a victim of relentless torment. But such was the love we knew.

Margarita, or Marge, as she was eventually, renamed, had previously insisted on a dog, as she developed an early fixation with lap dogs that would last her whole life. I think Mom gave in to her as a way of an apology after Dan threw a large D-sized battery at Marge while they, were playing under the laundry, shack. It split her forehead open. Dan threw the battery out of jealousy, as he felt Mom was giving Marge far too much attention. Dan has always been a bit too protective of the things he loved.

So we were all surprised when Dad brought the tiny, puppy home in a blanket, coddled it as it fed adorably, on a disproportionately gigantic bottle of warmed milk, and then ceremoniously handed him over to Marge, who murmured lovingly at the dog and quickly forgot the huge cut on her forehead, though I don't believe Mom really ever did. Mom vas also quite overprotective of her favorite things.

Meanwhile, Blackie began his adjustment to the loud, large family. He was molecular in size—perfect for children—and we loved him to death. We doted on him constantly: We fed him and pet him until he was so annoyed at our attention that he snapped at us, yapped at us.

We didn't care.

Marge made sure Blackie slept with her at night on her thin, yellow cotton blanket. He would curl up in the ribbed crook between her knees and growled every time she moved, so she'd wake up with a stiff back but she would never tell anyone about it. I would force a bowl of leftovers at Blackie when everyone else was gone, lying on the floor on my stomach so I could see eye-to-eye with this black and chocolate rat with the cold nose. He'd get annoyed with me and snap at my hand and face with his vicious, tiny teeth, but I didn't care, because we all loved him, this yappy, puppy with the heart of a wolf.

Mare, the third oldest and youngest of the girls, had always been a bit sickly and asthmatic. She had been delivered at home by a mid-,wife, and it had been a difficult birth. She had come through with a Gaul, and because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, she was blue and had to be resuscitated. Now at age six, she had developed allergies to almost anything with dander, and as such, she wasn't very close to the dog, but Mare and Marge were best friends, so Mare loved the dog by proxy. Sylvia, as the oldest, joined in on the care and feeding and tormenting of the dog, but from a distance. Syl had the burden of being the oldest child, and that took up most of her focus, pushing the uncertain and undetermined boundaries.

Dan took care of the dog, too. He put Blackie in a big basket and carried him around the front yard and through the pervasive junk field from Grampa's trucking business that perpetually surrounded our house. There were bits and parts of derelict dump trucks, machinery, backhoes and axles, open barrels of spent oil and split tires that wound in a trail through the back of our property. Somehow, every morning, Dad and Grampa would manage to put eight ailing dump trucks and a front-end loader/backhoe to work, out of the dismal lot. Dan would carry the dog in the basket on a tour of this, the only path we knew as kids with absolute certainty.

As he walked by with the dog in the basket, the oily Mexican mechanics and drivers who worked for Grampa would look up from their greasy business and snicker at Dan, because they, saw him as a developing pansy. A young man showing affection—any sort of affection, even to a puppy-was not macho, even at six. His tight shorts didn't help, either. But hey: It was hot, and the kid grew fist.

* * *

Some months later we couldn't find Blackie one morning. We happily orchestrated a search party like we'd seen in cartoons and then spent the better part of the morning searching loudly around our house and in the native, still-wild property, across Oklahoma Avenue. It was Gramma who finally found him, ripped to shreds behind her pigsty,, bleeding from his eyes and ears, his tail chewed off completely. Dad was the first to respond to Gramma's screams, the first to cry, out, which immediately gave those of us who weren't already doing it the cue to wail uncontrollably. None of us knew the dog had meant so much even to him, and though it came as an unsettling surprise to us in our collective horror to see our father crying, we each continued to anguish independently at the foul murder of our beloved Blackie.

But then Dad became quiet, uncharacteristically composed, as he dug a hole behind the pigsty where we would bury Blackie with the minimum pathetic honor a family, of children could summon.

None of us questioned who'd been responsible. We all knew who had done it, who had been the villains behind such terrible violence. It was the dog pack that lived with Elogio, Dad's stepuncle, a few houses to our west. We all knew this without evidence or even discussion, and needed neither for our conclusion. Elogio's dogs, about five or six of them, terrified the dusty length of Oklahoma Avenue.

Elogio and his four sons clearly felt that Dad and his family, did not belong in the Rubio barrio, since Gramma had married into the barrio when Dad vas already four years old, a child from another man. Elogio was our Grampa's usurping younger brother, and he wanted control of the family trucking business that Grampa had built. As Grampds stepson, Dad challenged Elogio's succession. It was a Mexican parody of Shakespeare, in the barrio, with sweat-soaked sombreros and antiquated dump trucks.

Elogio's near-feral dogs made it unsafe for anyone to walk on that dirt road. They would charge full speed at cars driving by. They were fearless and dangerous. Somehow, Blackie had managed to escape our house, and the dogs found him and tore him to shreds.

"Lo reventáron," Dad had said to my mother when she showed up, describing in Spanish what had happened to Blackie. "Reventáron" is a difficult word to translate into English, and the very thought of that word gave me anxiety attacks in my adolescence, when the word would bubble to the surface of my thinking, after this experience. It's a combination of sensations, actually: It's part ripping, part tearing, but with an elastic resistance, like pulling apart a rubbery, living membrane-an image like bleeding rubber. When I would remember the word later, I thought the same thing was going to happen to my mind.

And that was what these dogs had done to Blackie, from what Dad had seen. That was his postmortem assessment. Bit down on each end and split the tiny mutt apart.

Dad wrapped Blackie in a white blanket as we all stood around weeping, unsure of what to do. He lowered the tiny, bundle into the hole while we surrounded him, crying all the while, and then he filled the grave with the coal-colored loam upon which Gramma's land was built, having been carved out of a larger cornfield. He affixed the small cross Gramma had fashioned from dirty, soiled planks over the small grave, and then he clutched his crying wife and children to him as Gramma said some sort of fiery prayer calling for vengeance, in Jesus's holy, name.

Dad must have been about twenty-six then, watching his family cry like that. And its only now, really, that I understood why he cried as much as we did, even though he was not exactly what you would describe as an animal lover.

There was another message in this horrible pet murder, something more disquieting that attacked the very position of Dad's family in this barrio, something I understand now, from this distance. I know now why he ,wept like that, for that dog, for us.

The Rubios had kept these dogs unfed, unloved, and hostile. Presumably it was to keep burglars away from their prototypical barrio home: a main house, built by farmhands many years before, with subsequent single-room constructions slapped together according to the needs of the coming-of-age males and their knocked-up ,wetback girlfriends. As such, the houses were consistently in varying stages of construction and deconstruction, because the boys never left home; they just brought their illegitimate children and unhappy, wives along for the only ride they knew, the one that headed nowhere.

The dog pack resulted from the same sort of impulsive decisions and behavior: They'd bring a feral puppy home when some overwhelming sense of crypto-macho sentimentality overtook them, and then they would leave the dog disregarded and abandoned, much like the families they were creating.

And now, whether consciously or subconsciously, the dog pack had grown to a level of domination on that street, establishing their position in the pack order of this barrio.

And those dogs had attacked our dog. And it would have to be answered.

The next morning is one of the few memories I have of seeing my father as an adult, as a man, as he climbed somberly into his dump truck. It's the best truck of the lot, oversize and red, fancy for the barrio business. His CB handle is "Too Tall," but the other drivers have difficulty, with English, so instead they, call him tútol.

As he pulls out of the driveway, Mom stands in the door of our house and tells me to walk out to the road, to watch as my father drives off just after the school bus had picked up the rest of the kids earlier that morning. Dad pulls out onto Oklahoma Avenue, the dirt billowing behind him as he makes his way to the state road about a mile \vest, a route that would take him past the Rubios' house. I stand in the road and watch as Dad's dump truck rumbles of while the low morning sun beats down on the tailgate, making the red paint glow orange through the dust cloud.

As if on cue, the wild dogs run at the dump truck when he drives past the Rubios' house, barking and snapping at the tires. Except this time my, father slows his truck with menacing purpose and leans out of the driver's side window with a .22-caliber revolver. I hear hire shoot repeatedly, shoot every single dog as close to the head as he can. And as they all lay, there dying, gray and brown lumps in the dusty, early morning road, he continues his drive to work, and I don't ever remember feeling so proud of my father again.

Chapter Two


In those rare moments when my father was gripped by paternal obligation, he ,would attempt to bridge the widening gap that was developing between us with an awkward father/son exchange, more often than not by asking whether I'd had my cock sucked yet or had bedded a cousin. I was fourteen, and that gap was widening daily.

My, father wasn't a complicated man, you can be sure. I think at this time he actually took pride in his coarser urges. Or, more accurately; in his ability to get them satisfied. And he would teach his boys this quality, so help him Jesus.

But one day, he catches me off guard when he asks, "Where's your favorite place?"

I don't have to think about it too long on that stifling South Texas afternoon. I knew it could be anywhere other than these talcum-powder farm roads he had us constantly traveling, tending to his deteriorating trucking business. We were Sisyphean wetbacks with a back load of dirt or sand or grain or corn, grimly traveling the same fields, the same roads, the same faces.

Yet his question has an uncharacteristic lure of soul-searching, something that might even be approaching the thoughtful. So I try to answer with some due sense of hope, introspection. But I have to be careful.

The last time he asked something similar I got a knuckle to the temple for answering his spirit-lifting questions truthfully. "In ten years from now, who are you gonna be?" That's a translation from his Spanish. I think he was drunk.

I was ten, sitting in the passenger side of his red dump truck, and we were driving. I thought about his question for a moment, looked around at the dismal, shortsighted South Texas surroundings, at the complete absence of hope. I muttered, "Dead, hopefully," mostly to myself. I didn't think he'd heard me, but then he suddenly exploded into one of his tantrums, which resulted in a lump on the side of my forehead. So today, I'm more cautious, but cryptic.

"I think my favorite place is the water bed at night," 1 say.

Back then, it really was. Those summer nights down there could get suffocating. My, sisters had all gone off to college and I'd moved into their bedroom, where they left a disco-era waterbed, undulating and slowly leaking away. At night, I could lie there and look at the stars through the badly screened windows, and think about escaping. About what life was going to be like ,when I was able to get away from this place. But Dad has never been one for romanticism. He doesn't take the bait.

"Mine's inside a nice, warm pussy," he tells me with a big smile, like he's just said the smartest thing he's ever thought, and I should be equally impressed.

Instead, I am horrified at this declaration. Even today I cringe when this memory forces its way, to the surface. It is visceral, twists my stomach into knots. His face is beaming with boyish satisfaction as he slowly, deliberately, in a singsong exclamation, enunciates the words "Nice. Warm. Pussy."

We are sitting in the cab of his dump truck. I am opposite him. He is haloed by the nuclear sunlight behind him. It is close to 100 degrees outside and no one in my family lives any farther away than twenty, miles from where we now sit. I simply cannot run far enough away, from this man. His mustachioed upper lip curls when he forms the word warm, and for a moment his mouth becomes vulvular, creating the image of female pudenda, and I think I might try to turn gay to get as far away, from my Dad as possible. It's the only, plausible solution.

Oh dear God, please, I pray, silently, turn me gay. Please turn me guy.


Excerpted from THE BOY KINGS OF TEXAS by DOMINGO MARTINEZ Copyright © 2012 by Domingo Martinez. Excerpted by permission of Lyons Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

2012 National Book Award finalist Domingo Martinez lives in Seattle, Washington. His work has appeared in Epiphany and he has contributed to The New Republic. He has read pieces from The Boy Kings of Texas on This American Life and an essay about being chosen as a 2012 National Book Award finalist on All Things Considered. An excerpt from The Boy Kings of Texas was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.

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The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
philobabble More than 1 year ago
This is an astonishingly good read about a corner of the U.S. rarely written about. It is the Latino ANGELA'S ASHES, written with such heartbreaking hilarity I couldn't put it down. An important book - read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exquisitely written, nakedly exposed, Martinez's story is agonizing, heartbreaking, and rendered with breathtaking language. This is an important book about a far corner of U.S. told by a poor, rough-neck kid from the barrio who writes like a daemon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many of us Hispanics born and raised in Texas have left to find America elsewhere. I'm glad someone has finally told the story. Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I kept thinking about this story long after I finished reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read in a long while. Sad, funny, grim, ironic, and brutally honest. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My book club read and discussed this book.  all 8 of us believe it is an important book to read. It is a good read for those interested in our current immigration issues, a better understanding of US-Mexican border culture, and generally why people sometimes choose crime as a way to survive.          
caverjules More than 1 year ago
amazing. one of the best memoirs I've read in ages- can't wait for his next book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author is very self centered & thinks that he is a better writer then he actually is. The ending was sudden & it was almost like he woke up one day & was like "I'm over this, I guess I better wrap it up". Then one paragraph later he was done. The worst part is that the final paragraph actually opened the door to story I would actually like to hear unlike the majority of the proceeding stories. Poorly written, poorly thought out & if I could give it zero stars I would.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not that interesting about a mixed family Mexican/American and some of the things that happen with/to them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of this family deals in a "hands on" way the way that life goes in this border town area. I think you would like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being from the valley, this book brings back some of the worst memories and best arguments for why we leave. But it is a really well-written book and I'm glad I read it. An honest look at human nature like Martinez is doing here, no matter the setting or characters, unfortunately doesn't make for a fairy-tale story. It's quite a long read, but it flows nicely.
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I am in middle of reading this book and find boring and confusing! The story is jumping around which makes it diffcult to follow i am dissapointed!
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Growing up in Brownsville myself, it was easy to relate to some of the experiences and feelings expressed by June. I had to drive by Oklahoma ave. the other day. It appears not much has changed. Great book June.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago