Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora. By Larry La Fountain-Stokes. Minneapolis. London: University of Minnesota Press, 2009; 242 pp.; $19.23 paper.
As the travel of Puerto Ricans and other immigrants around the globe becomes more fluid, the bonds and borders of place and culture also widen. Changing geographies, life experiences, socio-economic and generational factors, among other things, take part in the more or less visible performance of migrating cultural identities. According to Larry La Fountain-Stokes, queer migration has usually been viewed as a minor, if not marginal issue in the general scope of migratory flows. In Queer Ricans La Fountain-Stokes takes up queerness as one of the principal instigators of Puerto Rican migration, intricately analyzing how this cultural marker is (de)articulated by LGBT writers and artists of different diasporic generations and locations within the U.S.
Culturally engrained issues of homophobia must be unpacked not only in Puerto Rican and other Latin American cultures presumed to be exceptionally homophobic, but also anywhere LGBT individuals’ sexualities are viewed as “incorrect.” However, as demonstrated by a very recent hate crime committed in Puerto Rico, the classic discourse of machismo characterizing many pan-American cultures fuels generalized exclusions of homosexuality as a “Latin” thing. This is evidenced in the ways Puerto Rican identity has been constructed within a hetero-normative discourse. As La Fountain-Stokes argues, “Openly gay, militant homosexuals and other LGBT individuals are seen as emulating foreign attitudes, posing a menace from the outside, and not necessarily behaving as Puerto Ricans are expected to” (xviii). These views extend to academia within the U.S. where queer studies strives to become a more visible field, and studies on Latino culture seem to divide at times at the point of taboo sexualities. La Fountain-Stokes makes his bold, authoritative voice heard on the topic of queer studies as he converses with and adds to the large discourse on Puerto Rican migration and identity.
In the first three chapters, La Fountain-Stokes chooses to focus on three gay writers of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s: Luis Rafael Sanchez, Manuel Ramos Otero, and Luz María Umpierre. Throughout his analysis, La Fountain-Stokes uses “outness” not only in its most conventional form to describe openly gay sexualities, but also in terms of homosexual individuals’ separation from society. In his analysis of Sanchez’s story “¡Jum!” La Fountain-Stokes delves into the complexities of language that queers, racializes, and pushes the main character’s body “out” of society.
When looking at the writings of Manuel Ramos Otero, La Fountain-Stokes points to “autobiographical fiction” as a literary convention that illuminates the author’s personal experience. The analysis creatively engages with Ramón Otero’s geographic usage and cultural metaphors of islandness as a state of solitude. Most notable in the analysis is the framing of queer Puerto Rican migration as “exile” or “sexile” rather than migration. La Fountain-Stokes examines different “stages” (in the spatial and developmental senses) of the author’s work. Each “stage” shows Ramos Otero’s transitions as a queer Puerto Rican migrant in New York—his relationships in/with the city and the relationships between the queer Diaspora, the island, and other ethnic groups as they are narrated in Ramos Otero’s writings.
In La Fountain-Stokes’ treatment of lesbian subjectivities, Luz María Umpierre is featured as a poignant protagonist in the Latina lesbian movement through her explicit representations of the Latina lesbian body in literature and the assertion of Lesbian literature as part of the larger Latina body-of-literature. In La Fountain-Stokes’ own words, Umpierre’s use of poetry “painfully” and productively “threads [diasporic women’s fragmented bodies] as individuals and as a social group” (90).
In chapter four the author more broadly compares Frances Negrón-Muntaner’s film Brincando el Charco; Rose Troche’s film Go Fish; and performance artist, novelist, and cartoonist Erica López’s Lap Dancing for Mommy and Flaming Iguanas. In this chapter La Fountain-Stokes shows the constant flux of Puerto Rican identity, especially as it constitutes a more or less important marker of a person’s being and relation with sexuality.
The end of the book proposes a new, hyphenated way to perform Ricanness as suggested by dance artist Arthur Aviléz—that is, a more distanced form of acknowledgment of such a strongly national imagining. Through his analysis of Avilés and Elizabeth Marrero’s rendition of a queered-Ricanized Wizard of Oz, La Fountain-Stokes offers a “utopic” ending to the staging of queer Puerto Rican migration by considering its many variances.
La Fountain-Stokes’ attention to detail when analyzing the works, particularly the literary ones, is remarkable. The chronological progression of the pieces he looks at, as well as the framing he provides for them, gives the impression of a more graspable Puerto Rican identity in the 60’s and 70’s that begins to dilute thereafter. Queer Ricans adds a much-needed perspective on the performance of Puerto Rican (and Latino) identities in and outside of the U.S. and exposes the cracks of inclusion and exclusion implicit in the construction of these identities.
Isel Rodríguez is a scholar and artist of theatre and performance. Under the tutelage of Dr. Tamara Underiner for the Theatre and Performance of the Americas Ph.D. program at Arizona State University, she is currently writing a dissertation on the body as nation through solo performance within the context of Puerto Rico. Isel Received an M.A. in Theatre Education from NYU, and B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico in the same field.
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