English professor publishes book on hustling past
David Tomas Martinez prefers to take a front-row seat in his English composition class the first day of the semester. He’ll arrive early and, when the time for class to start comes and goes, he’ll rant with his desk-mates.
“Man, is the professor going to come?” they’ll say.
Martinez will nod and say, “Yeah, what a jerk.”
“What kind of professor is he?” they’ll say.
Then, Martinez will stand to face the class, exposing his ink-laced arms and — if one peers long enough — the peeking ink just above his collar.
“I do all kinds of tricks the very first day,” Martinez said, smiling. “One, I’m Chicano. They don’t expect a brown person to come in the beginning of the class, nor do they expect one who’s 6’1” and fully sleeved.”
Martinez is a teacher and creative writing doctoral candidate at UH. His book “Hustle” will be available May 15.
“Hustle” is a collection of narratively written poems about Martinez’s past. Martinez was a gang member, a teenage father and a high school dropout. He said in showing so much of his past and thoughts, he hopes he can induce his readers to consider the perspective of others so people can become more accepting.
“Most people see (someone like me, and) they write them off, and they don’t give people a chance. Some of the smartest people I know are people I grew up with,” Martinez said. “They grew up to be drug dealers, pimps, murders. They grew up to be these things because that was kind of like what they perceived to be the available route. Growing up, people thought you needed to be a rapper, athlete or some sort of gangster.”
Martinez said if it wasn’t for poetry, he would not be a year away from becoming Dr. Martinez.
But to understand how he’s becoming Dr. Martinez while some others are pimps or drug dealers, it takes looking at the external factors that partially create a person’s actions, feelings and thoughts.
“Things are complicated. Our life is complicated. We can’t just brush over them and say, ‘Well, you know, Mexicans like to drink.’ These are silly answers and they’re stupid answers. And they’re not answers that I will accept, and I won’t, because things are complicated,” Martinez said.
“We have so many divergent reasons for actions. The more that you get people thinking about others and themselves, the better the world will be.”
Martinez said his own perception of himself posed a conflict in his life.
When Martinez began attending UH in 2010 as one of four doctoral candidates, he would wonder why he felt out of place.
“We can be racist against ourselves. We can hold ourselves back because that little voice gets to talking to you and be like, ‘You’re a poor kid from southeast San Diego. You can’t run with these dogs.’ We sometimes think that in our weak moments.”
Martinez said he continually asked himself how his age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, community and other factors contributed to how he and others perceive him and also how he perceived others.
He said once people realize that they each have certain beliefs, they can’t just accept them as they are.
“Maybe it’s misogynistic. Maybe it’s homophobic. Maybe it’s racist. Maybe it’s all of these things,” Martinez said. “We all have these prejudices, and I think it’s a huge discordance to not talk about them.”
Martinez writes about prejudices, classism, sexism and stereotypes in “Hustle” and his other writings, which have been published in San Diego Writer’s Ink, Charlotte Journal, Poetry International and Border Voices.
He even talks about prejudices and perspectives with his students.
“If I can start to begin to make (my students) autonomous thinkers,” Martinez said, “where they’re thinking on their own, separate from their parents, separate from their partners and spouses, separate from community, separate from their ethicality or gender or anything like that — if I can begin to do that, then that’s the greatest service I can give these students.”
Martinez will read from “Hustle” on May 11 and 12 at the Houston Book Festival and May 19 at Brazos Bookstore. “Hustle” can be pre-ordered from Sarabande Books.