If I’m rich or if I’m poor
I will always get my way
and my word is my law
I’m without throne or a queen
nor anyone that understands me
but I will keep on being the king
— Lyrics from “El Rey” (“The King”) by José Alfredo Jiménez, translated
Domingo Martinez’s couldn’t have written a more appropriate prologue for The Boy Kings of Texas. Referring to Jiménez’s song as “the lyrical genome for machismo,” which “mapped the emotional DNA of the border male,” Martinez perfectly establishes the tone of his painful memoir. Martinez came of age in the south Texas border town of Brownsville — as south as you can get in Texas before hitting Mexico — and he grew up steeped in the culture of Mexican/Mexican American machismo.
The Boy Kings of Texas is about coming of age in the Rio Grande Valley (south Texas) in the 1980s but never quite fitting in. Martinez and his siblings were only the most recent members in their family’s generations-long cycle of dysfunction, violence, and abuse, much of it stemming from the culture in which they were raised. Given everything that happened in his life, it probably would have been easier for Martinez to write a straightforward retelling of what his life. Instead, what Martinez produced was a powerful book that often feels more like a series of related vignettes rather than a standard memoir.