Story Highlights

When Noemi Martinez was in the third grade, she recalls writing several fairy tales for a class at Lazaro Cardenas Elementary in Chicago. One of the stories that she wrote was a fantasy about an evil monster and two little girls who would go on to live happily ever after. Her teacher helped Martinez turn that story into a small book using contact paper.

“There was a school assembly, and I presented it,” Martinez said. “I was so excited. I just always felt writing and reading was a way to escape. I read a lot in grade and junior high. Then later with writing, I felt it was a way to retell my own stories and experiences.”

Storytelling became an essential part of the life of Martinez, who would later go on to become a prolific writer and poet in the Valley. The daughter of a mother who is Puerto Rican, and a father who is Mexican, Martinez weaves the many layers of her life, culture, environment, and identity in her work.

Three decades after she “published” that fairytale in third grade, Martinez is set to release an anthology of her best-known work in December. Years in the making, the Hermana, Resist Anthology will feature “Making of a Chicana,” “Hermana, Resist” Volume 1-5, “Aged Noise,” “Lines from Acedia to Apatheia,” and “The Blue Metal Kettle.”

To make this project a reality, Martinez has a crowdfunding campaign to finance the project.

Noemi Martinez with her daughter, Winter. Photo courtesy of Noemi Martinez.

Alternative media in the Rio Grande Valley, unfortunately, has not been preserved well. There are countless different zines, newsletters, newspapers from the Valley that have either been lost in time or stored away in inaccessible archives. This anthology is a rarity, where the community has a chance to help ensure that this alternative media does not get forgotten and is preserved for future generations.

Martinez became interested in zines as a teenager, specifically zines and perzines (personal zines written and shaped from one’s own experiences) by punk and feminist women of color. Bianca Ortiz, Mimi Thi Nguyen, and Lauren Martin were some writers that inspired Martinez when she was exposed to zines for the first time.

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“There’s so many things that make zines ideal for community building, for education, for outreach, for documenting our lives and each other’s lives,” Martinez said. “Then, as historians, it’s ideal to archive and collect our stories and experiences, as proof of our experiences. It’s also relatively low cost and accessible, can be given over and over again, and can be a tool to distribute each other’s work. Because we know that mainstream outlets don’t always publish marginalized communities like women of color and queer writers of color.”

Reading zines, she became interested in documenting her own story as a single mother in the Valley who was struggling with poverty, being chronically ill, and her mental health. At the age of 20, she started writing and constructed her first zine, “Making of a Chicana” (2001). The zine documented different stages in her life and told the story of how a 9-year-old Martinez ended up in South Texas from Chicago.

A year after “Making of a Chicana,” Martinez still felt that stories from single Chicanx/Boricua mothers like herself were missing from the world. That thought encouraged her to start putting the pieces together for what would become “Hermana, Resist” (2002).

Photo courtesy of Noemi Martinez.

The themes that she explored in “Hermana, Resist” were close to Martinez’s heart. While writing that zine, she explored what community means to her, health, poverty, depression, anxiety, alienation, and as she describes it, “single mamihood and working through being a lonely queer, single mami.” In the early 2000s, her voice stood out both in her zines and in online spaces like a website she set up through her WebTV device and LiveJournal, where she was the most visible Valley voice writing about these topics. Her style gained many fans.

“What drew me to Noemi’s work is her unapologetic willingness to be critical of the space in which she lives,” Magda Garcia, a Ph.D. student in Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said. “Her work refuses to overlook the existence of patriarchy/misogyny, sexism, respectability politics, or ableism in Mexican-American, Chicanx, or Latinx culture for the sake of cultural or racial unity.”

Throughout the 2000s, Martinez worked on different projects that uplifted the voices of many in the Valley like the RGV ZineFest and Mujerfest, an annual festival that gave a platform to women of color musicians, poets, and artists in the Valley. In 2017, Martinez was one of the storytellers recognized at the Neta Launch Party Reclama Awards due to her writing and the varied ways she has told stories about the Valley throughout the years. While she worked on many other projects, like “Voices Against Violence,” “Nos/Otras: Finding Gloria,” and “MAIZ: Mujeres Activistas Insurgentes y zineras,” Martinez’s best-known work remains her “Hermana, Resist” series.

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“What I find so captivating about Noemi and ‘Hermana, Resist’ is, first of all, the longevity of zine making—we’re talking nearly two decades!” Garcia said. “That is an incredible feat for one zinester and for a mostly one-woman led independent press, particularly when we consider that zinester don’t have widespread material or financial support for their creations since zines are so antithetical to the values of profit-making and capitalist production. For her to continuously create zines, both as herself and through co-edited ‘Hermana, Resist’ releases, as a queer crip single mother of color within a space like South Texas, which is often conservative in some ways, speaks to her commitment as a zinester and as a Chicana cultural worker.”

Much of Martinez’s life is documented in her writing, and while she says she experienced sadness rereading her painful experiences while compiling this anthology, Martinez is happy that she gets to share this with the world.

“A small part of me thinks that my words and experiences can be helpful to someone else,” Martinez said. “I know early in my zine days, I valued so much of what I read because I felt like an anomaly on so many levels and in so many ways. And now, that I have years and years of zines and writing to look back at, I can say that I survived that, I went through that. I didn’t think I would, but I did.”

That is a reason why Martinez thinks more people should consider writing zines, both about their own lives and about their community experiences on the Texas-Mexico borderlands. She believes that through zines and alternative media, people can share stories about how the Valley has been historically fighting against many injustices over the years. Through her writing, she has resisted against the patriarchy, homophobia, and the militarization of our border for decades.

She hopes this anthology will encourage people to share their stories and experiences about the Rio Grande Valley— because our stories matter.