Donato Martinez

Hood Stories


Donato Martinez teaches English Composition, Literature, and Creative Writing at Santa Ana College. He writes about his community, his culture, his bi-cultural and bilingual identities and other complexities of life. He is influenced by the sounds and pulse of the streets, people, music, and the magic of language. He stays connected to his barrio upbringing and the beauty of his culture, language, and music of his adolescence and adulthood.

Nahuatl palabras beautifying the antepasados and giving tribute to our ancestral roots. Like papalotes and tecolotes. Aguacates become Chicano become guacamole. Because we are keeping the language alive. With greetings of our beautiful gente. And “Mexica Tiahui hermano.” Y “Buenos dias compadre.” “Adelante amigo.” And greeting a recognizable young homie, like “Was up foo? Did you hear about the car crash last night by the liquor store. A young mother was pushing her stroller?” Our language transcends and evolves and ruptures time periods and histories. When we speak we do it in our twisted tongue, tangled trabalenguas.

Our stories are told in the bold and brazen graffiti-scrawled letters of who was here and who has passed away. Too many young Chicanos with RIP slogans. Pinche desmadre that he died too soon. Y su abuela couldn’t believe that his nieto died before her. Her strength is wrapped around her like a warm rebozo on a cold morning. But now she wears her black veil of sadness. This mujer india has birthmarks and scars on her back that tell stories of how she crossed the desierto wearing solamente sus huaraches. She survived rape from the coyote, abuse from her husband, and multiple miscarriages. And now she has to pay respect to her nineteen year old ñieto. This grandmother of indigenous features and a wrinkled face of knowledge. Her hands like fragile dry leaves, but today they still smell of this morning’s masa as she fingers her rosary while praying to the virgen. Never learned to read but can tell you about the movement of the stars and of remedies and about the beautiful hummingbirds that would visit her in the spring. She can tell you about survival. And resiliency. And sadness. And love.

The graphic and raw stories are immortalized in the vibrant colors of the murals by young men and women self-taught, porque para que voy al museo cuando tengo el arte en mi Corazon. Pa que chingados voy to the galleries when my inspirations are in the middle of the street. I can hear the sounds of paleteros and car horns. The sound of music blasts from all directions. I can smell the street tacos and vending trucks. Y chales con la pinche jura. Trucha homie. Watch my back while I finish the outline of this mural. Chiflame cuando veas la pinche chota.

Cus all I want to do tonight is drink a 40 and pour some for the dead homies. I want to smack the shit out of the Donald Trump pinche piñata. And splatter its insides all over the place because I do not recognize your wall. Cus no border can stop the flow of water or blood or humanity. You build it. We will come. Because there is no border. Mi gente vive 

En los files y en los campos and the ghettos and the mobile home parks and the slums and apartment complexes and the barrios. We live in downtown projects under city lights. This is Occupied America. I don’t have to leave or go anywhere cus this is home. This is Aztlan.

We are the victims of a violent history. Of bloodshed and barbed wire gouging the skin

Ripping flesh while chasing the American dream.

But our stories are also of future dreams. Of seeing our loved ones once again with a warm long overdue embrace of love. Cus no words need to be spoken in this act.

Because our stories are of survival. And resiliency. And sadness. And love.

Oranges At My Grandfather’s

I used to watch my grandfather pull out a pocketknife from his pocket
He’d find an orange
And slice it into perfect wedges right on the palm of his hand
It was a ritual, like making magic out of nothing 

These were our summers when we were out of school
It was our escape
Our vacation – just walk up the street and I would be at his home 

My cousins and I would salivate and drool over the oranges
The sticky and juicy mess would run down from our fingertips to our elbows
and we wiped our hands on our shirts
Only to stain them with permanent smudges.
And ask him for more 

It was these summers
that reminded us of our innocence
As we bravely escaped and got lost in the jungle of gardens and plants and vegetables
We created backyard adventures as we climbed apricot trees
We discovered the mystery and nudity of women in old Playboy magazines.
Some of us learned about the bitter taste of alcohol
And the stale stench of cigarettes 

Like scavengers we quickly ran to our homes with glee
out of breath
And for a night, we forgot about our sadness
and hid the grief of our own homes
The scars of our past
The sins of our fathers
Of fights and hunger and poverty and screams
And promising not to share the dark family secrets that destroy families. 

One day things will get better. I promise you.
We nodded in agreement. 

And we will remember. 

How my grandfather wounded an orange so perfect
And how we devoured the sweet flesh.




© The Acentos Review 2021