To view a video of the lecture, click here.
Brownsville native speaks about 'The Boy Kings of Texas'
National Book Award Finalist Domingo Martinez shakes hands with a student.
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – OCTOBER 31, 2012 – Brownsville native Domingo Martinez shared insights into his life’s story as well as the inspirations for his memoir The Boy Kings of Texas, a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award, at a lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
Martinez sat down with Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies, in the Science, Engineering and Technology Building Lecture Hall. Sitting in the audience were students, faculty and staff as well as students from the Math and Science Academy and the Brownsville Early College High School campuses.
“We are very honored to have [Domingo] here,” said Zavaleta. “Domingo and his work are masterful. The beauty of his writing is that he’s tied into his memoirs a string of literary references, musical references that tie his memories to a specific time and place and space.”
Martinez described the process of writing his memoir as a sort of therapy. He would mine his personal history for material by examining his childhood and contrasting it with the, as he described, alien environment that was Seattle, where he currently resides
“The inspiration [for ‘The Boy Kings of Texas’] came from my lack of understanding of why I left Brownsville so hastily,” Martinez said. “The book started to take shape 10 years ago. The entire book process took place 15 years ago.”
In response to a question from the audience, Martinez touched upon his usage of the people he is most familiar with – his relatives and friends – as subjects for his book.
Martinez said that ever since he was a child, there had been an “Old World” versus “New World” conflict in his home, and this dichotomy created a fierce conflict within him which resulted in him feeling alienated from his peers.
Martinez said that he felt caught between his mother’s new world and progressive – the thinking that he should succeed academically and strive to move ahead - and simply, as he put it, “surviving” like his grandmother and his ancestors had done. Martinez mentions that sections in his book are dedicated to examining the effects, sometimes negative, this struggle had on him as a person.
“[There was] this division between home life and school life,” Martinez said. “At home, I rolled up my sleeves. School was the only availability for me to have friends, flirt with girls, maybe try out my new comedy skit and so on. At school, you had to study, go to class, carry books, but I just wanted to hang out.”
Martinez said his passion for writing had roots in his Brownsville Hanna High School journalism class.
“My first step toward redemption was walking into F101 and meeting Blanca Perez,” said Martinez of his high school journalism teacher. “She gave me responsibility – she treated me like an adult. It was the feeling of someone putting trust back into me that was sort of putting me back on the path toward redemption.”
Martinez’s love of journalism translated into a love of writing. One audience member, a mother whose daughter is an avid writer pursuing her dream in college, asked Martinez for advice on writing.
“Listen to that inner voice – that compulsion to write,” Martinez said. “If you don’t have the compulsion – the need – then that’s what you have to nurture to succeed.”
Martinez attended classes at El Jardin Elementary School, Vermillion Elementary School, Central Junior High School and Hanna High School where he graduated in 1990. After a short stint at what is now Texas A&M University – Kingsville, Martinez worked for a local political newspaper before moving to Washington.
Martinez has been published in the “Epiphany Literary Journal” and “The New Republic”. An excerpt of the book has been nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. Martinez has also been featured on National Public Radio, and an excerpt from this memoir, titled “The Mimis,” was featured on This American Life.
The National Book Awards will be held at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14 in New York City. The event will be streamed lived at www.nationalbook.org.