Domingo Martinez's grandmother, known as "Gramma"

Domingo Martinez's grandmother, known as "Gramma"

Domingo Martinez is the only author without a Pulitzer Prize to be nominated for this year’s National Book Award. He joins Diane to discuss his memoir about growing up between two cultures on the border of Texas and Mexico.

Guests

  • Domingo Martinez 2012 National Book Award finalist.

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Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “The Boy Kings Of Texas: A Memoir” by Domingo Martinez. Copyright 2012 by Domingo Martinez. Reprinted here by permission of Lyons Press. All rights reserved.

Transcript

  • 11:06:51

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Five non-fiction books are finalists for this year's National Book Award. Four were written by well-known Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and then there is Domingo Martinez. He worked as a part-time journalist and graphic designer for 15 years while writing stories about growing up in a Mexican-American family on the south Texas border.

  • 11:07:22

    MS. DIANE REHMThe result is a memoir titled "The Boy Kings of Texas." Domingo Martinez joins me in the studio. I hope you will join us as well. Call us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's so good to see you.

  • 11:07:48

    MR. DOMINGO MARTINEZGood morning, Diane, thanks for having me here.

  • 11:07:50

    REHMAnd congratulations to you, you must be and have been over the moon.

  • 11:07:54

    MARTINEZThat's a phrase that keeps getting used in relation to what's happened in the last few weeks. Ah, more than anything else I've been intimidated and frightened.

  • 11:08:05

    REHMIntimidated because…

  • 11:08:10

    MARTINEZThe name Robert Caro carries a very large amount of certificates.

  • 11:08:14

    REHMAnd Anthony Shadid...

  • 11:08:17

    MARTINEZShadid, of course...

  • 11:08:17

    REHMThe late Anthony Shadid...

  • 11:08:19

    MARTINEZ...and Anne Applebaum.

  • 11:08:21

    REHMKatherine Boo, these are all people who have won Pulitzers and you are in that list.

  • 11:08:27

    MARTINEZAnd I was managing a print shop up until about six months ago, so.

  • 11:08:32

    REHMWow.

  • 11:08:34

    MARTINEZYeah.

  • 11:08:35

    REHMSo it's really quite an honor?

  • 11:08:37

    MARTINEZAbsolutely.

  • 11:08:38

    REHMAnd the award is being announced when?

  • 11:08:40

    MARTINEZNovember 15th, I believe, in a ceremony in New York City.

  • 11:08:45

    REHMThe National Book Award is really quite an honor to be nominated for...

  • 11:08:51

    MARTINEZRight.

  • 11:08:52

    REHM...and your book had such a circuitous route in even getting printed.

  • 11:09:00

    MARTINEZAbsolutely, I certainly did not take any formal route in getting here. I worked on this book on the side while I tried to maintain a living. It was always my Plan A to be a writer. I never called myself a writer. I was always a graphic designer or a printer, whatever I happened to be doing at the time to pay my bills.

  • 11:09:28

    MARTINEZBut the book was always incubating sort of on the side and I would write a story of -- or I would tell a story to a friend of mine and I would notice that their ears would really prick up and they'd say tell me more about this particular detail. And I'd say, well, I could go on a little bit further in more detail depending on your threshold of discomfort.

  • 11:09:50

    MARTINEZAnd so that's why when I -- I knew I was on to something when I would write these stories and people would very much pay attention to that. When I tried my hand at like fiction or something else, people were pretty left unimpressed. But these stories really left an impression.

  • 11:10:10

    REHMAnd where did you first have the first story published?

  • 11:10:16

    MARTINEZPublished, that was actually quite recent. It was the Epiphany, a literary journal out of New York also after an extended period of attempts. I had a stack. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to go about publishing. I, you know, was outside the academic system.

  • 11:10:37

    MARTINEZI knew journalists. I knew people in publishing at the C.L., Times level, you know, newspapers and local alternative news weeklies, but I didn't know the first step in getting a book published and so I ultimately just used the internet and just started calling databases, by creating my own databases of possible agents, contacts.

  • 11:11:03

    MARTINEZI mean, I figured I'll just start at the top and I sent out my unsolicited manuscripts over and over and over again and got a lot of rejection slips in the mail until one time one person actually responded and said, you know, we like what you're doing here, but where have you published? And my answer was, nowhere else.

  • 11:11:26

    REHMThat's always the first question to a brand new writer.

  • 11:11:30

    MARTINEZRight, right.

  • 11:11:30

    REHMWhere have you published?

  • 11:11:32

    MARTINEZYou mean that's necessary?

  • 11:11:33

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 11:11:34

    MARTINEZSo that person directed me to a Directory on Amazon that I purchased and I just basically started in the A section, not really understanding how to read the messages they were saying. It's like, you know, we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. I'll just send them, you know, two, you know, two stories instead of the five that I usually do.

  • 11:11:57

    MARTINEZAnd ultimately, I made my way all the way to the E section and then this was, of course, the second time I attemped. The first time I tried this, I think I made it to D before I kind of was discouraged. And then I tried it again like three or four years later and for some reason, the stars were aligned this time and the momentum just started.

  • 11:12:18

    MARTINEZThey found me in the slush pile. It was a gentleman named Jeffrey Gustavson who sort of volunteered on the staff of Epiphany and he found it. He understood what I was trying to do with -- I was trying to bring the immigrant memoir a little bit further than the usual conventional stuff I grew up with, which didn't really appeal to me because it didn't speak to me because I was second, kind of on the border of the third generation and I was much more Americanized than Mexican-ized, I guess I should say.

  • 11:12:55

    MARTINEZAnd, you know, I was of the John Hughes generation. I was watching "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" instead of, you know, listening to my grandmother's Mexican soap operas.

  • 11:13:08

    REHMBut your grandmother plays such an important part in this memoir.

  • 11:13:14

    MARTINEZShe played a very important part in our lives. She was very much the dominating factor. In fact, I give her every amount of credit for bringing, you know, bringing us to the doorstep of America. And towards the end of the book, I actually describe her as like -- I use the whole Moses metaphor where, you know, he could come to the Promised Land, but he couldn't enter it and it was kind of the same with grandma.

  • 11:13:40

    MARTINEZShe just brought us to America, but she just stopped there and because it was just too frightening for her. And so she sort of maintained that same existence that she grew up with, which was brutal, and very much based on a tremendous amount of this velocity of work and it really meant a lot for her to be constantly, being productive and sometimes ethically questionable with regard to her choices and decisions.

  • 11:14:16

    MARTINEZBut she was a survivor and that was kind of the point, you know, she was going to survive. She was going to thrive and her family was going to thrive at any and all costs.

  • 11:14:25

    REHMWhat about your mother and father?

  • 11:14:29

    MARTINEZThat's actually where the complication starts. My mother was not Mexican. She was of a European ancestry, though she lived in Brownsville and she spoke Spanish fluently. She married my father when she was 16 years old. My father was 19. He had just graduated high school and Vietnam was raging.

  • 11:14:52

    MARTINEZTwo or three of his cousins had been drafted and Dad was terrified of being drafted at the time. If you were married you went for -- he was 1A as a Mexican-American in a barrio and freshly graduated, his number was up. And so he deduced that if he got married and started having children, he would soon descend those rungs and...

  • 11:15:15

    REHMAnd that's what he did.

  • 11:15:17

    MARTINEZThat's precisely what he did and so he was 4F in a matter of like three years.

  • 11:15:22

    REHMHow many children…

  • 11:15:24

    MARTINEZWhen they finished that first rung, we were at -- I numbered number five. And there was a double thing going on there. It was primarily, you know, to kind of reduce the status, but also because he wanted a boy and the first three children they had were my three older sisters and then my older brother Dan came along. And so mom was kind of allowed like, I don't know, a period of about six months of rest and then I came along.

  • 11:15:54

    REHMAnd you were the last?

  • 11:15:58

    MARTINEZYes.

  • 11:15:57

    REHMAh...

  • 11:15:59

    MARTINEZWell, and then there was an oops baby, 13 years later, my little brother Derek.

  • 11:16:03

    REHMWow.

  • 11:16:03

    MARTINEZWho has endured a number of parents, let's just say, because we were all -- there was so much of a distance in age that we all kind of took on a role of parenting.

  • 11:16:16

    REHMOf course. How did your father support you?

  • 11:16:22

    MARTINEZMy grandfather had originally -- he came back from the Korean War. He had been a Private in the trucking pool in Korea and when he came back to America, he used his GI money to start a trucking business and he became sort of the patriarch of the barrio. It was his barrio that my -- he met my grandmother in the tomato fields of Matamoros or Brownsville.

  • 11:16:45

    MARTINEZShe was never quite specific as to, you know, what side of the border they were in. It must have been Matamoros because he granted her citizenship so logic would say that he was working out there too. And he had a fleet of trucks that he had hired all his brothers to work.

  • 11:17:04

    MARTINEZAnd so he met grandma and at this point, she had been a widow for a while because she also got married when she was about 16 years old, but her husband was what they call a coyote. He would. He was a smuggler, worked both sides of the river and he was successful enough to be on the radar of the Texas Rangers, who, according to family lore, put an illegal bounty out on him because they couldn't catch him.

  • 11:17:30

    MARTINEZAnd so one day, he walked into a Mexican bar in Matamoros and the bartender shot him. He was 19 years old and he was just flat-out murdered and that kind of set off this series of events also. He was shot multiple times and so it was a pretty gruesome event, sight.

  • 11:17:57

    MARTINEZThey did take him to hospital and word got to his father, but they didn't tell him that he had been -- that he was dead. And so when he gets to the hospital, he expected to see his son, you know, in surgery or something and instead he sees like a carcass.

  • 11:18:12

    REHMNo.

  • 11:18:14

    MARTINEZRight, and then he had a heart attack and dies right there in the same room. And so my grandmother is then, all of a sudden, left alone.

  • 11:18:21

    REHMAlone.

  • 11:18:22

    MARTINEZAt about 16, 17 years old with a child, a ten-month-old baby and, you know, my dad never met his father. And so grandma had to kind of take care of dad all by herself and that's why she ended up on working the tomato fields by herself.

  • 11:18:37

    REHMDomingo Martinez, his new book, nominated for the National Book Award, is called "The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir."

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. A National Book Award nominee, Domingo Martinez, is with me. He was also a nominee for the Push Cart Award. His new memoir is titled, "The Boy Kings of Texas." And, Domingo, before the break, you were talking about your grandmother and the fact that both -- I mean, she was just left by herself at age 15, 16 and you have portion there to read for us.

  • 11:20:43

    MARTINEZI do. "Grandma was widowed with a 10-month-old child before she turned 18. For three years, grandma was grateful to be picking cotton and tomatoes for a living with her son strapped to her waist when she met Pablo Rubio, Jr., my grandpa, about the time she was 21. She was accustomed to hard work and she could keep up with the men working the field. Pablo Rubio, Jr. drove the delivery trucks, had just come back from the Korean War where he had been a private in the trucking pool.

  • 11:21:11

    MARTINEZThis was a rough time for grandma. She was the very definition of butch, though they didn't have time for fancy things like definitions in the tomato fields. She felt tougher than the young men and far superior to the women who are expected to pick less and carry smaller burdens. She was competitive and mean and would proudly get into fist fights with the young bucks who'd be surprise at how hard she could hit, hit like a man.

  • 11:21:34

    MARTINEZAnd young Mingo, at age four, could do nothing but watch while his mother got into dusty, dirty entanglements with teenage boys who would initially humor her in a slap fight, but would then realize she meant business and that she could punch and kick and scratch like the rest of them and they'd end up sprawled in the dirt in a real fight and she'd hold her own. Apparently, Pablo Rubio, Jr. found this enchanting.

  • 11:21:57

    MARTINEZHe was bewitched by the siren of the tomato fields and he paid her court to the manner worthy of their station. They had more than a share of romps behind the trunk when no one was looking or sometimes where people were. You take love where you can get it in the tomato fields.

  • 11:22:14

    REHMAnd that's what began...

  • 11:22:17

    MARTINEZRight.

  • 11:22:17

    REHM…their extraordinary relationship.

  • 11:22:19

    MARTINEZIt did. It was very Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

  • 11:22:25

    REHMThey were truly enthralled with one another.

  • 11:22:28

    MARTINEZAbsolutely and very volatile at times.

  • 11:22:32

    REHMNow, there is a song that you write about in the prologue of your book, you translate the words of the song. It's titled, "El Rey, The King" by Jose Alfredo Jimenez. Let's listen to it.

  • 11:23:58

    REHMTranslate for me that last verse because I gather it relates very much to the title of your book.

  • 11:24:08

    MARTINEZVery much so. And that's a fantastic version, by the way. The last verse basically reads, "I have neither a throne nor a queen, nor anyone that understands me but I will keep on being the king." And the idea is that no matter what your circumstances are that your honor and dignity surpasses anybody else's and is like the most important in the world to a Mexican man from that part of the world to the border male.

  • 11:24:40

    MARTINEZIt's a whole -- well, actually no, it's very much a part of the Latino institution, sorry, the machismo institution -- the Latino institution of machismo, which is not particular to Latinos, in fact, it's all over the world. But for some reason, it has that, you know, resounding O at the end, so it made kind of a Latin thing and so it's particular now to Latin culture, machismo. So what was really interesting about this whole book or about the story is that most macho person in our life was my grandmother.

  • 11:25:15

    REHMExactly. Exactly. What are your memories of your grandfather and what do you speculate your grandmother might have had to do with his death?

  • 11:25:33

    MARTINEZMy grandfather was an incredibly kind and generous man that we absolutely had -- we didn't know him very -- we lived across the driveway and he was very kind to us children. He loved children. But my grandmother, after having my father I think was infertile. It's one of these things that, you know, in a Mexican Catholic community, you just don't talk about reproductive issues.

  • 11:26:00

    MARTINEZSo grandpa, to us, was this incredibly kind and larger-than-life figure because he was patriarch and we saw how other people deferred to him and we saw how he was very much in control of everything. But he was very much a philanderer and a boozer also. This was the part that we didn't know about because we were, you know, 2 or 9 depending on, you know, the spectrum of children. And so, grandma was dealing with a lot of rage at a lot of his choices and his decisions.

  • 11:26:34

    MARTINEZAnd, in fact, recently I was speaking to my mother and my sisters about this and my mom kind of indicated that she wasn't so much jealous, she just hated the fact that grandpa was spending the money on other -- on doing other things rather than, you know, taking of the household.

  • 11:26:50

    REHMHe was a diabetic.

  • 11:26:51

    MARTINEZHe was diabetic and he wouldn't take care of himself, which is pretty common in that environment. There's no real culture of preventative health care. So visits to the doctor, especially for something that, you know, you might not be suffering from in the case of, you know, preventative care, it just doesn't exist. It's just not a part of the mentality. In fact, I've had to kind of train myself to do that on my own.

  • 11:27:20

    REHMHe was a diabetic and did she control the insulin?

  • 11:27:27

    MARTINEZI think it was sort of a shared thing. If I remember correctly, he had a bag full of needles and I have distinct memories of her actually...

  • 11:27:39

    REHMInjecting him?

  • 11:27:39

    MARTINEZ...injecting him for him to. But he also would go for days on benders and not come back until...

  • 11:27:51

    REHMAnd with his mistresses.

  • 11:27:53

    MARTINEZSometimes yes. And it was a -- it was not even an open secret, it was just open. And this was terribly humiliating to grandma, and so she found, you know, every time she would see this person on the street or wherever shopping where grandma would go ballistic and chase her down with her very large blue car and chase her through the dirt roads of Riesel, TX. And I don't remember this happening, otherwise I would have written about it.

  • 11:28:26

    MARTINEZBut my mother said recently, I think it's my mom or my father, that she actually set fire to the woman's car at some point, too. That's how hostile grandma is.

  • 11:28:35

    REHMA hostile grandma. One story that you speculate about is that your grandmother actually may have withheld his insulin because she was so angry about the mistress. Another story is in regard to the pharmacist.

  • 11:28:59

    MARTINEZRight. That's the contradiction that I was not able to clarify. That was a lot of -- you see, the movie -- the book is based on primarily on my memories and interviews with, like, my brother and my immediate family. Asking my grandmother if, you know, did you kill grandpa would just not...

  • 11:29:25

    REHMNot would have been...

  • 11:29:26

    MARTINEZIt wouldn't have ended well.

  • 11:29:27

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:29:28

    MARTINEZSo, but it was whispered about -- my brother in the end just kind of knew that something was not quite right about this. But the weeks leading up to grandpa's death, he was certainly not taking care of himself. He was gone. There were days that he would come back with, you know, missing shoes, completely intoxicated, just kind of drove his pick up and then would sit outside while grandma threw things at him.

  • 11:29:57

    MARTINEZAnd so it wasn't surprising that he ended dead as a result of, you know, this behavior. But it was speculated, but never directly to her because, well, she could shoot you if she wanted to.

  • 11:30:11

    REHMDomingo, are there any members of your family who would rather you hadn't written this book?

  • 11:30:22

    MARTINEZAbsolutely. It -- my concerns were primarily for my nuclear family, my immediate family. And I was living so far away from them and spending so much time working on this book, there was a real distance and isolation.

  • 11:30:42

    REHMYou spent 15 years writing this.

  • 11:30:44

    MARTINEZI spent 15 years writing the book, I spent 20 years in Seattle...

  • 11:30:49

    REHMAway from them.

  • 11:30:51

    MARTINEZYes, yes, I did. I ran away from Texas. And eventually I realized that I was sitting on this incredibly wealthy story. And I -- I just labored at it for a very long time doing revision after revision. And in doing so, it really kept me insulated from what the impact was going to be when the story got out. I never thought it would be successful. I never -- I naively never thought it would actually, you know, play in Texas.

  • 11:31:23

    MARTINEZI thought the story was going to be too rough for Texas, it was too truthful especially in that part of the world. I thought I would -- can slide it by and nobody would notice it in my family, but it was not the case. And...

  • 11:31:33

    REHMHow did they react?

  • 11:31:35

    MARTINEZAt first it was -- I really hurt my father's feelings, because he's not the same person anymore. But my brother was a big advocate in the book because these memories are shared by both my brother and myself. Dan and I experienced life very much together. And so, as we were -- as adults, we were very much bonded by this sort of shared pain and we would sit around -- I mean, even with the distance between us, we'd call each other out and go, remember when that happened?

  • 11:32:08

    MARTINEZAnd then we would bounce the memories back and forth and he'd go, no, that's wrong. You know?

  • 11:32:13

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:32:13

    MARTINEZIt didn't -- yeah. It didn't happen.

  • 11:32:15

    REHMYes, because each person in the family remembers differently.

  • 11:32:19

    MARTINEZDefinitely. However, there was a sort of median and I wrote the median. But between my brother Dan and myself, which is, again, the person who I trusted the most, still trust the most in life. Dan and I, we've had a tremendous -- it's very difficult being brothers. It's very difficult having gone through that also. So you compound the two and you get memories like this.

  • 11:32:48

    REHMDomingo Martinez, his new memoir titled, "The Boy Kings of Texas," has been nominated for a National Book Award. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. There's a custom that keeps turning up in your family, child swapping. What does that mean? Does it mean to trade children?

  • 11:33:33

    MARTINEZIt wasn't in my nuclear family. We didn't do it. But it was certainly surrounding us the whole way through and it was usually with the more -- the poor farming families that can afford another mouth to feed or just, in some cases, the parents were too young and they were not ready to raise a child. So they would make arrangements with another, like, childless couple or a couple who has two or three other children but wanted another baby for some reason.

  • 11:34:09

    MARTINEZAnd they would -- it would be an agreement completely outside of any sort of legality. No oversight institution, no Child Protective Services, no government, it was just an arrangement, sometimes financial, sometimes just trade, sometimes just an agreement. I can't raise this child, would you take this child from me? And sometimes the children would have contact with their biological parents, sometimes they wouldn't.

  • 11:34:36

    MARTINEZBut for the most part, it just went completely ungoverned and without any real consequences. I mean, there was never, you know, the police call, there was never -- there's very little in the way of Child Protective Services in that part of the world. So it just -- it was a part of the culture.

  • 11:34:56

    REHMPart of the culture and part of perhaps why your book has drawn such attention. You talked about how your immediate family might have reacted to the book. What about the wider Mexican community?

  • 11:35:21

    MARTINEZI was recently invited back down to Brownsville, TX by a professor of sociology at University of Texas at Brownsville, Dr. Tony Zavaleta who is himself kind of a local institution. And he read the -- I had a glowing review in Texas Monthly. He read it. He immediately purchased the book, had it delivered to his house and read it cover to cover and contacted me and said, you know, I hated this book, but I loved it because it's exactly my story and it's exactly the story of 90 percent of the kids in my classes. Let's talk about you coming home. And eventually a couple months later I was invited to the Texas book fair in Austin and I thought -- and I just kind of thought, well, I'll just...

  • 11:36:08

    REHMWhy not?

  • 11:36:08

    MARTINEZ...I'll do the four-hour drive to the town of Riesel. And I was incredibly well-received. People get it. This book, as tough as it is, as hard as the stories are, it's allowing a lot of people to be heard and seen for the first time in America as a part of America. Certainly an insulated little sort of, you know, nook at the bottom of Texas. But that was my emphasis was, as weird as this are is and as foreign as this is to everyone else in America, we're still a part of America.

  • 11:36:47

    MARTINEZYou know, we're still, you know, American citizens here. And we're still -- but a lot of the choices are informed by sort of the old world suspicions of progress and integration. So there's that duality. And I explore that duality almost consistently in the form of, like, reinvention, personal reinvention, racial self-hatred. And my book is completely permeated with that. And, again, it's not evangelistically particular to the Latino culture.

  • 11:37:26

    MARTINEZA lot of people feel this that come from all over, very different parts of the world.

  • 11:37:31

    REHMDomingo Martinez, "The Boy Kings of Texas" is his National Book Award nominated memoir.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. We have many emails and many phone calls. We'll try to get to as many as we can. Here's one from Miguel who says, "I grew up in Brownsville in the '70s. I also had a grandfather with other women and drinking and a similar grandmother who put up with it. Does Domingo think there is something in the water in Brownsville?"

  • 11:40:38

    MARTINEZWell, there's certainly something in the water, but not -- they're mostly heavy metals. There -- it's mostly just the cul...

  • 11:40:48

    REHMIt's a culture.

  • 11:40:49

    MARTINEZIt's the culture thing. It's -- it's, again, the institute of machismo. Men can do as they please. The women -- I heard stories of somebody that lived a couple of doors down. They actually would be out all night and then come home with his mistress to have his wife cook them both breakfast.

  • 11:41:04

    REHMOh, my.

  • 11:41:05

    MARTINEZIt just ridiculous like that. But that was endemic. That's was acceptable behavior and nobody questioned it.

  • 11:41:12

    REHMDomingo, before we go on, what was the worst part of your childhood?

  • 11:41:20

    MARTINEZWe only had one TV channel.

  • 11:41:25

    REHMYou're being very amusing here.

  • 11:41:27

    MARTINEZThank you. I don't -- there's so much, Diane, that I can't really zero in on one thing. If I had to -- OK, I'll admit to this. I didn't get my own -- there was just way too many children. And we're all competing for the same resources, primarily my mother's attention and my father's, as well, sometimes.

  • 11:41:51

    REHMIsn't that true of any large family?

  • 11:41:53

    MARTINEZSure.

  • 11:41:54

    REHMWhat's the difference here?

  • 11:41:56

    MARTINEZThe difference would probably be that we were -- my brother and I were kind of thrown under the bus for the advancement of our sisters. And it was very clear. And it was almost -- it was more of a (word?) idealization of progress. My mother had more -- my mother had control over my sisters' future. My father wanted to keep my brother and myself to himself as labor. And education and advancement and anything else it just wasn't on his radar.

  • 11:42:38

    MARTINEZAnd so we were forced labor. We weren't allowed to have the same sort of fun that my friends at school did on Saturdays. You know, they had -- they were allowed to sleep in, to watch television, et cetera, to be children. Dan and I were woken at seven o'clock. We were put to work and we had -- we had no say so. I mean, we were just changing tires -- we were out there doing the maintenance on the decaying trucking business.

  • 11:43:09

    REHMI would have thought that one of the worst stories you might have told was that in regard to a puppy who came to your home.

  • 11:43:23

    MARTINEZThat story opens my book and I think perfectly illustrates the levels of violence and the survival intentions that my family had. My father brought home a ridiculously tiny little Chihuahua puppy for all us kids. We were all -- I mean, I think with all the sisters -- so there was ten. And then you could, sort of, do the math as the declension there. And we all loved this dog very much. And it was an indoor dog -- but I kind of use the dog as a metaphor for our, sort of, vulnerability in the barrio. We were outsiders inside this...

  • 11:44:12

    REHMBecause you were light skinned.

  • 11:44:14

    MARTINEZBecause my mother was light skinned, yes, and because we were, again, trying to advance. We were learning English. My sisters were bringing English home. We were speaking English in the -- at home with, you know, on the farm. And everyone else was related. We were not. Dad felt -- and dad felt intimidated by this family -- so this barrio that we lived in. And so we had this tiny little puppy who we lived with for about a year or two. It was about two years old when it somehow escaped and it got torn to shreds by this dog pack that lived a few doors down.

  • 11:44:52

    REHMA feral dog pack.

  • 11:44:53

    MARTINEZA feral dog pack that was pretty -- was based at, like, at one of dad's, you know, step cousins house. And they just ripped this dog apart. And in order to get revenge my father, driving to work one day or the next morning after we found the dog and buried him, he shot every single dog on his way to the state highway. And it was such a display of machoness that it was just -- it wasn't answered. There was no -- there was no retaliation because it was just, like, dad really kind of -- I don't know or, sort of, assuming his authority and saying, you know, we're not going to deal with this.

  • 11:45:38

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones to Charlottesville, Va. Good morning, Mary.

  • 11:45:44

    MARYGood morning. I'm so happy I was able to listen to this. First of all, Mr. Martinez, you absolutely deserve the nomination for the National Book Award. This is a wonderful book.

  • 11:45:56

    MARTINEZThank you.

  • 11:45:57

    MARYAnd the stories are gripping, but your writing is really remarkable. And I think in listening to your interview and I'm reading the book what comes through is your love and compassion for people who are flawed and trying to understand why they are the way they are. I compare it to "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt. And I thought that was a masterpiece.

  • 11:46:19

    MARTINEZThank you.

  • 11:46:20

    MARYBut yours is, as well. I think it's wonderful.

  • 11:46:23

    MARTINEZThank you very much. You're absolutely right about that level of compassion. The book -- I think we mentioned that it's taken me about 15 years to write. When I first started writing this book in my early 20s that compassion wasn't there. I had a lot...

  • 11:46:41

    REHMAnger.

  • 11:46:42

    MARTINEZI was very angry. I was a very bitter person because I didn't understand things. And as time went on, and as I kept it in the revision I sort of started to, kind of, put the pieces together and put our whole family experience into the larger, broader context.

  • 11:46:57

    REHMWhat happened when your mother forgot to pick you up from Sunday school?

  • 11:47:05

    MARTINEZThere was no apology. There was -- I wasn't hurt. I wasn't bleeding. No broken bones. Get in the back of the car.

  • 11:47:14

    REHMHow long were you left?

  • 11:47:16

    MARTINEZA good 12 hours. I just was kind of forgotten. It...

  • 11:47:22

    REHMDid she ever tell you why?

  • 11:47:26

    MARTINEZNo, it wasn't discussed. We didn't discuss things like -- we never discussed things like that. Children were not included in adult conversations.

  • 11:47:34

    REHMI understand that very well.

  • 11:47:36

    MARTINEZYeah.

  • 11:47:37

    REHMYou describe your home as an emotional concentration camp.

  • 11:47:46

    MARTINEZRuled with an iron fist by my grandmother primarily. My dad was, you know, the lieutenant. I don't know enough about military hierarchy. But it was -- we dealt with each other through intimidation -- humiliation primarily and shame. That's how we communicated. We ridiculed each other. There's a story that my brother keeps telling. And he actually tears up when he tells it because he felt so betrayed.

  • 11:48:15

    MARTINEZHe had some kind of issues, you know, that boys get. And he felt that he couldn't go to my dad because he felt that if dad found out about it dad would just ridicule him in front of all his, you know, all of dad's cousins, all his friends. And so instead he goes to my grandmother and asks her, you know, kind of in a sort of, you know, secret, grandma, I need your help sort of manner. And she listens to him and nods her head and says, well, let me think about it. I think I have an ointment or maybe you could pour, you know, motor oil on it, whatever, because that's kind of what they do.

  • 11:48:48

    MARTINEZAnd she immediately turns around and tells my father exactly -- which was exactly what Dan didn't want to happen. So anyway my father does exactly what Dan was afraid he was going to do. And just turns around and, like, you know, points and laughs at him. And ridicules him in front of the rest of our family. And Dan just went absolutely ballistic at this point. I think he was 15 years old when this happened. And that was the sort of situations that we just had to endure until we could get out of there.

  • 11:49:22

    REHMSo how did your father react to this book?

  • 11:49:28

    MARTINEZAt first he was incredibly, like I said, hurt and paranoid. He was, like, no, there are family secrets. And my brother, Dan, who -- they've completely repaired their relationship. I will completely re-enforce this fact. My father is a completely different man now. He's been sober now for over 22 years now. We are very protective of him. He's an incredibly loveable man who had suffered from an extreme case of PTSD that went completely undiagnosed.

  • 11:49:59

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:50:00

    MARTINEZAnd the way he treated it was through, you know, medicinal herbs -- old world magic, basically.

  • 11:50:08

    REHMAlcohol.

  • 11:50:10

    MARTINEZYes, that, too, which just, you know, increased the -- the effects of his anxiety. And which, coincidentally, started immediately after my grandfather died. Dad has come to terms with this. And my whole family has been incredibly supportive. In fact, we all met -- we all descended upon the city of Austin -- woe be to them -- and we had the first family gathering in -- in over 12 -- I don't remember the last time that the whole family showed up to one place.

  • 11:50:44

    MARTINEZNormally it's, like, you know, we'll have Thanksgiving and, you know, a third of them will show up. Or Christmas here, Christmas there. Everybody showed up. My mother and my stepfather in the same room as my father also. Everything -- completely simpatico -- we had a lovely time -- had not felt that sense of communion ever in my life.

  • 11:51:02

    REHMDo you think you brought them together?

  • 11:51:05

    MARTINEZI -- the book did. And the book is...

  • 11:51:11

    REHMThe book is you.

  • 11:51:12

    MARTINEZThe -- it's their stories, too. I cannot take full credit. You know, these are -- and that's one of the problems of memoir that I never considered is that, yes, it's my story. But my story is their story.

  • 11:51:23

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:51:24

    MARTINEZAnd so I -- yes.

  • 11:51:26

    REHMTo Pittsburgh, Penn., Greg, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:31

    GREGThank you, Diane. I'm -- thank you. I'm remembering, Domingo, sitting with my grandmother who is from Poland. And connecting with her sitting outside and wish I had heard, perhaps, stories from where she came from, but did not. But my -- my admiration is also about the Scripture that says the trust shall set you free. And then the adage that we're sick as the secrets we keep. And when you tell this truth -- I mean, as a gay man, I learned how to keep it a secret, how to hide that. And the damage that does. So I appreciate very much the willingness to bring forth a truth even when it can be difficult as you've indicated -- and cause tension in families.

  • 11:52:14

    MARTINEZThank you very much for that. And, yes, you're absolutely right. One of the devices that I used in writing this book was every time I blundered up against a hard memory, somewhere where I felt shame, some memory that I felt was difficult and felt that, you know, in the past I would really have to suppress that or deny that. I attacked that memory. And I -- I flipped it open, I flipped it over and I just started to understand why. And wanted to know why that secret was there.

  • 11:52:47

    REHMSo in fact, and I think this certainly happened to me, the writing becomes revelatory.

  • 11:52:58

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:52:59

    REHMIt's not -- you don't learn it until you've...

  • 11:53:03

    MARTINEZActually...

  • 11:53:04

    REHMLived it.

  • 11:53:05

    MARTINEZ...in that sense, the book was -- and I didn't want this to be the case, but it was incredibly therapeutic.

  • 11:53:12

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Did you ever have therapy?

  • 11:53:19

    MARTINEZYes, and I can't wait to get back to it.

  • 11:53:23

    REHMI understand that so well.

  • 11:53:25

    MARTINEZThank you.

  • 11:53:26

    REHMSo well. It's very helpful.

  • 11:53:28

    MARTINEZIt is. It very much is.

  • 11:53:29

    REHMAll right, and to Mounds, Okla., good morning, David.

  • 11:53:34

    DAVIDGood morning. I'll try to go fast. I just heard so many parallels to my own family and growing up in a border town, which was actually San Diego, California. So a different area of this country, but, certainly, a lot of parallels -- a very active great grandmother who I heard stories of her managing a buckboard with horses and such. And my grandmother -- so her and her husband were exiled to this country during the Mexican Revolution because my grandfather was a postmaster in Monterey, Mexico. And anybody with any kind of government position, of course, was exiled during the revolution.

  • 11:54:14

    DAVIDBut I never met him. He died when my mother was only five so my grandmother raised six or seven children -- I think six or seven because one of them passed away -- by herself. And my mother, who married young the first time, had 14, turned out to be a pedophile. My father is an Anglo so there's a little bit different component, but, certainly, a lot of parallels to the author's story. And what I wanted to say was that inspires me to, not only, read his book. But my aunt who wrote a family history of our family and I've yet to read that so now I have two books to read.

  • 11:54:52

    DAVIDAnd, finally, I will say about the song "El Rey," I was -- right next to PBS on my television is a Spanish language channel that if I was switching over to PBS here was a movie on in Spanish titled, "El Rey." And I don't know if the song was based on the movie or the movie was based on the song, but as they rolled the credits there was that song. So...

  • 11:55:14

    REHMThat's great, David. Thanks for calling. Do you know that movie?

  • 11:55:20

    MARTINEZNo, I don't. I've never -- don't know it. I'll IMDb it when I get home.

  • 11:55:25

    REHMBut what David's story tells us is how prevalent these kinds of experiences are no matter where...

  • 11:55:34

    MARTINEZWhere you come from.

  • 11:55:35

    REHM...You come from.

  • 11:55:36

    MARTINEZAbsolutely, that's what I've been getting.

  • 11:55:38

    REHMTell us quickly about your sister's Mimi phase and what brought it to an end.

  • 11:55:46

    MARTINEZThe Mimi -- my sisters were -- they were entering high school. They were between middle school and high school. And they were becoming, sort of, they were in their adolescent period, post adolescent, in puberty and were becoming quite self aware. And they -- I think they felt a level of intimidation themselves and kind of, sort of, subconsciously identified, you know, that anything Mexican was going to be something to be ashamed about.

  • 11:56:17

    MARTINEZSo they began, first of all, they just -- they dropped their names, Margarita and Maria, which we had actually -- but, you know, every -- we called them Marge and Mare, of course, because we were headed towards assimilation. But they didn't think that was enough. So they started calling each other simply Mimi. And they began dressing in very fancy clothes, Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt, which was, you know, fancy then. And kind of took on the -- they took on this completely different personalities in order to get through high school. And it lasted for quite some time, but until the point where they were forced to set -- to go off to California to pick grapes because my dad's business had kind of deteriorated.

  • 11:57:06

    REHMDomingo Martinez his new memoir, "The Boy Kings of Texas," is one of five nominees for the National Book Award. I wish you all success.

  • 11:57:24

    MARTINEZThank you so much, Diane.

  • 11:57:25

    REHMAnd thank you for being here and telling this wonderful story. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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