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Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 66, Number 4, April 2010
pp. 586-588 | 10.1353/tam.0.0257

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Building upon the edited collections Queer Globalizations (2002) by Arnaldo Cruz Malavé, and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Queer Migrations (2005) by Eithne Luibhéid and Lionel Cantú, Jr., Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes's book contributes a welcome ethnic and cultural specificity to scholarly discourse on gender, sexuality, and migratory experience. The author's notion of a queer Rican community stands as a vibrant space from which to negotiate and reinscribe queer Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, and Diaspo-Rican spaces of community and cultural production. Situating authors and artists within the context of an ongoing history of island migration to the mainland spanning over 200 years, La Fountain-Stokes's study of queer Puerto Rican expressive culture from the late 1960s to the first decade of the twenty-first century maps the myriad ways sexuality, gender, culture, and migration intersect and inform each other as social categories and human experiences.

The book brings together into critical conversation highly acclaimed island-born Puerto Rican writers like Luis Rafael Sánchez, Manuel Ramos Otero, and Luz María Umpierre, and mainland-born second-generation artists like Erika López and Rose Troche. In addition to generational distinctions, the book also highlights the diversity of queer Rican cultural production, ranging from the more traditionally conceived literary genres of poetry, essay, and short story, to contemporary mass media production, film, television, comics, and performance. The resulting comparative study is an insightful portrait of how birthplace, migratory history, assimilation (cultural, sexual, and gendered), and geographical location uniquely shape the tone and texture of Puerto Rican diasporic creative expression.

The author's methodological approach to literary and cultural studies will be especially useful to other scholars and students of queer Latina/o artistic production, since his emphasis on researching, documenting, and contextualizing each author or artist's trajectory yields a wealth of archival data unavailable elsewhere, including interviews and excerpts from unpublished performance scripts and personal correspondence for many of the works discussed. In addition to close readings of poetry, film, and performance, the author provides intimate portraits of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City (the Bronx specifically) as key spaces of queer Rican culture and community.

The author begins with the literary production of legendary poet, essayist, and playwright Luis Rafael Sánchez, whose metaphor of "la guagua aérea" or "air bus" stands as a defining intellectual and artistic metaphor for Puerto Rican diasporic movement back and forth from the island to the mainland. Engaging with the exile narrative portrayed in Sánchez's short story "Jum!" (1966), La Fountain-Stokes is careful to avoid overgeneralizations about homophobia on the island, offering instead a nuanced reading of the story's characterization of a rural community's savage alienation of a sexual and gendered other and the nature of exile.

In the book's most dynamic chapters, La Fountain-Stokes documents the innovative film, performance, and visual art of second-generation artists born and working largely on the mainland. In one chapter the author insightfully maps the representation of lesbian subjects and their geospatial milieu (Chicago and Philadelphia) in films by Rose Troche and Frances Negrón-Muntaner with lucid analyses of the directorial visions of both works, but regrettably cuts short his fascinating analysis of writer/performer Erika López's inimitable comic novel trilogy.

In his final chapter, La Fountain-Stokes engages with the collaborative work of New York-born and Bronx-based performers Arthur Avilés and Elizabeth Marrero. Through storytelling, music, drama, and dance, their queer Rican revised fairy tales like Maéva de Oz (1991) and Arturella (1996) employ what La Fountain-Stokes terms "ghetto bricolage" to breathe life into Avilés's utopian notion of Nuyorico. Closely tied to the author's own conceptualization of queer Rican culture, La Fountain-Stokes maps Nuyorico as an "embodied mindscape" that moves and changes along with the complex geographical and psychological journeys of Puerto Rican diasporic subjects.

Also included is an extensive bibliography that will prove invaluable for any student or scholar of queer, gender, and/or ethnic studies. A powerful testament to the depth and diversity of queer Rican cultural production, this study is an important addition to the broader fields of...