Last Saturday afternoon, passers-by stopped along the Centro de Oro’s sun-drenched streets to admire jewelry, literature and Puerto Rican culture at the 25th Annual Book and Crafts Fair. Taller Puertorriqueno hosted the event at the Julio de Burgos Books and Crafts Store on 2721 N. Fifth St.
Inside the bookstore, the event featured a book reading by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, who read excerpts from his novel Blue Fingernails, a collection of 14 short stories about cosmopolitan Puerto Rican gays and lesbians. La Fountain-Stokes is an alumnus of both Harvard and Columbia, and serves as the associate professor of Latino studies and Latino gender and sexuality at the University of Michigan.
La Fountain-Stokes, a native of San Juan, drew inspiration for the novel from his real experiences as a gay Puerto Rican, or as he calls himself, a “Queerican.” Donning bright blue fingernails, La Fountain-Stokes described the short stories. “The stories are not plot driven,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “They are more about feelings, abstractions, flow of consciousness. One is called Two Wings of a Bird about gay Puerto Ricans in Cuba in 1998, which comes from an experience I had.”
He continued to explain why it is important to share the experiences of gay and lesbian Puerto Ricans and Latinos. “There are lots of local specificities in terms of vocabulary, social acceptance, tolerance and intolerance, sexual practices and cultural manifestations,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “Each island has its own universe. That specificity is to break the stereotype that all gay people are the same, and so it’s not thought of as just a part of white culture.”
Outside the building, the fair-featured artisans sold art and jewelry. Samuel Franqui, a jewelry designer for 30 years, sold multicolored rings and necklaces. It was Franqui’s first time he was invited to the fair. “For the past 15 years, we have invited one artist and one writer to come to the festival,” said Francisco Sandoval, an activity organizer at Taller.
In addition to making and selling jewelry, the New York-based artist is a surfer and environmentalist. In his native town of Camuy, Puerto Rico, he runs an organization called The Garden of the Coast, a group comprised of surfers who use surfing classes as a vehicle to talk about protecting the environment. “Two times a year, the surfers get together to clean the beaches,” Franqui said. “The organization is for protecting the ocean and the trees to protect and keep the environment for the next generation.” Both Franqui and La Fountain-Stokes typified the fair’s celebration of the diversity of Puerto Rican culture.