On February 18 Mission District photographer Linda Wilson, long time staff member of El Tecolote, the bilingual newspaper of San Francisco, called me at home to let me know that my friend of more than 33 years, Chicano poet/author Victor Martinez had passed away. I am very saddened by the passing of this great poet, author of the celebrated novel Parrot in the Oven which was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature among other prestigious literary awards.
I first met Vic at Stanford University in 1977 where he held a Wallace Stagner fellowship in the Department of English. At Stanford University I had also met Juan Felipe Herrera at the International House during Orientation Week at the beginning of Fall Quarter of 1977. Victor Martínez became a very active member of the tertulias literarias that were regularly held at Chicano poet/muralist/visual artist José Antonio Burciaga’s home in Menlo Park, near Stanford, with his wife Cecilia Preciado also hosted always so graciously. Bernice Zamora, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gloria Velázquez, Gary Soto, Lucha Corpi, Emy López, Javier Pacheco, Francisco Santana, José David Saldívar, Orlando Ramírez, were some the writers who were part of his circle of literary friends.
Later Vic moved to the Mission District as Juan Felipe Herrera and I also did. The three of us lived and passed on to each other the same apartment we had rented at different times on Capp Street in the heart of the Mission District. The three of us became active members of Humanizarte, a collective of Chicano poets, and later of the Chicano/Latino Writers’ Center of San Francisco together with other Bay Area poets, like Lucha Corpi, Rodrigo Reyes, Juan Pablo Gutiérrez, Ana Castillo, Martivón Galindo, Margie Robles Luna. Vic was one of the regular writers and editors of La Revista Literaria de El Tecolote, contributing stupendous book, theater, and film reviews. One outstanding film review that comes to my mind at this moment was a collective film review of El Norte that Victor Martinez, Juan Felipe Herrera and I did together and which included an interview with its acclaimed director, Gregory Nava.
It was at Stanford University where Victor Martínez met Tina Alvarez, the love of his life. I told Linda Wilson over the phone, that one morning Tina and Vic called me to come in a hurry to their pad on Capp Street. I ran from my flat on San Jose Avenue, few blocks away, and found out that they had decided to get married that day and they wanted me as a witness. We took a joyful BART ride to City Hall in the San Francisco Civic Center and I was their sole witness to a simple and yet very profound ceremony that touched my heart. Vic and Tina didn’t need a lot of the usual trappings to show their love and commitment to each other.
I told Linda Wilson that I am leaving for Guatemala for a six day visit but that in transit I will write a tribute to Victor Martinez for El Tecolote. I am in mourning and want to express my deepest condolescence to Tina Alvarez, y toda la Familia Martinez. My thoughts and prayers are with you as I set to travel to Guatemala.