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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Puerto Rican scholar on queer culture, racism and sexism
By Susy Schultz
2016-10-19

This article shared 654 times since Wed Oct 19, 2016
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Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is a man of many titles and talents: An actor, an academic, a writer, a thinker, an activist, the drag queen Lola von Miramar and a groundbreaking scholar on Puerto Rican Queer culture.

He will be reading from his works and discussing his studies, as well as teaching storytelling during a free program from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, at The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St. He took time to talk about his work, his performing and living in these times.

Windy City Times: There are so many titles you have accumulated with all your work: performer, actor and academic. How do you describe yourself?

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes: I think of myself as a gay Puerto Rican writer, activist and scholar.

WCT: You are living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where you are an associate professor at the University of Michigan. But you spend time in Chicago, don't you?

LLF: Yes. I would say Chicago is a city that I have become much closer to and more fond of. … Before I had been focused on New York. But in 2003, I moved to the Midwest and … I started to cultivate many more friendships and connections here with the Puerto Rican and Latinx community and people who teach at the University of Chicago, and DePaul and Northwestern [universities].

WCT: But you had a connection to Chicago before you moved here?

LLF: Yes. For my first scholarly book, Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora ( in 2009 ) I wrote about "Go Fish," which I saw in New York but which was filmed in Wicker Park. It was the history of multiracial young lesbians filmed in 1994 and directed by Rose Troche, a Chicago Puerto Rican although she was raised in the suburbs and she made this film in Chicago and studied at UIC.

WCT: You also film Cooking With Drag Queens here as well?

LLF: Yes. I met Fausto Fernos and his partner, Marc Felion. They have been doing the Feast of Fun podcast for 11 years. But then in 2010, we started collaborating and making videos. They have national and international viewership.

WCT: Is that when lovely Lola von Miramar was born?

LLF: Well, at first Lola was just an internet project. But then she took a life of her own.

Fernos and Felion decided I would look good in drag and they invited me to dress up and do Cooking with Drag Queens with Lola von Miramar. … The video came out and it really took off. People they wanted to see Lola Von Miramar in person and I like to please my friends. … So I have performed in Latin America and the United States.

WCT: You're an academic and a scholarly author but you've also written short stories, plays and poetry. Were you always writing?

LLF: Pretty much since then I have been in school as a student, teacher or professor so, yes, I guess I have always been writing. … I was raised in a bilingual house in a bicultural framework; my father was American and my mother was Puerto Rican and, for me, it was important to be writing in Spanish.

WCT: What about performance? How did you get involved in that?

LLF: Reading fiction in public in New York in the 1990s was exciting and fun and I had friends who were in performance art and it was really appealing to me. There were also people and spaces where you could feel safe to do your own thing: Pregones Theater in the Bronx was one of those and The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Arthur Aviles and Charles Rice-GonzÃƒïż˝lez, That's how I ended up performing. … I did a one-man show in 2004 ( AboliciÃ"n del Pato/Abolition of the Duck ).

WCT: Coming from Puerto Rico to the United States, was it a difficult transition?

LLF: I came to the United States in 1986 to go to college. In Puerto Rico, I moved in bilingual and bicultural spaces and I found those same types of spaces here with people who responded to who I am.

WCT: Did you experience homophobia or racism in either the U.S. or Puerto Rico?

LLF: In both Puerto Rican and the United States, among the general population, there is lots of sexism and homophobia. And it can be very tricky to understand who are your allies and where it is safe to express your identity.

WCT: Have you seen movement on racism and sexism since you arrived?

LLF: I think we are living in very difficult and challenging times. And Puerto Rico is, of course, experiencing a great ( economic ) crisis. But these are also moments of great opportunity to have conversations and struggle to bring about change. There have been enormous gains in the LGBT community and women's rights. But the Orlando massacre reminds of the tremendous threats posed to the LGBT community—this is an important moment to be active and vocal about these issues and to recognize the need to vote and discuss.

WCT: What do you say to young people who are navigating their identity today?

LLF: It can be very difficult and it can be dangerous so you have to be careful. But it can also be very rewarding. You have to be true to yourself and that means listening to what your brain and your heart are telling you. And trying always to be aware of what is the best space and the appropriate space—that will nourish and allow you to be who you want to be. That may involve moving and finding new friends and different mentors. Look for role models and people who can give you advice.

You have to try to identify who is like you and who you want to be. In Puerto Rico, I knew [poet/novelist] Mayra Santos-Febres. We were both young in the 1990s and, for me, it was really crucial asking her how does one become a writer? And are you willing to read my short stories? She opened many doors. And she is world renowned as a Black Puerto Rican woman, who has also written about drag queens.

The free program on Saturday, Oct. 22, has the museum, the Great Books Foundation, the Chicago Cultural Alliance and Public Narrative as sponsors. To register, go to ChicagoCulturalAlliance.org/events/queerricans/.

Suzy Schultz is president of Community Media Workshop.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is a man of many titles and talents: An actor, an academic, a writer, a thinker, an activist, the drag queen Lola von Miramar and a groundbreaking scholar on Puerto Rican Queer culture.

He will be reading from his works and discussing his studies, as well as teaching storytelling during a free program from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, at The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St. He took time to talk about his work, his performing and living in these times.

Windy City Times: There are so many titles you have accumulated with all your work: performer, actor and academic. How do you describe yourself?

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes: I think of myself as a gay Puerto Rican writer, activist and scholar.

WCT: You are living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where you are an associate professor at the University of Michigan. But you spend time in Chicago, don't you?

LLF: Yes. I would say Chicago is a city that I have become much closer to and more fond of. … Before I had been focused on New York. But in 2003, I moved to the Midwest and … I started to cultivate many more friendships and connections here with the Puerto Rican and Latinx community and people who teach at the University of Chicago, and DePaul and Northwestern [universities].

WCT: But you had a connection to Chicago before you moved here?

LLF: Yes. For my first scholarly book, Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora ( in 2009 ) I wrote about "Go Fish," which I saw in New York but which was filmed in Wicker Park. It was the history of multiracial young lesbians filmed in 1994 and directed by Rose Troche, a Chicago Puerto Rican although she was raised in the suburbs and she made this film in Chicago and studied at UIC.

WCT: You also film Cooking With Drag Queens here as well?

LLF: Yes. I met Fausto Fernos and his partner, Marc Felion. They have been doing the Feast of Fun podcast for 11 years. But then in 2010, we started collaborating and making videos. They have national and international viewership.

WCT: Is that when lovely Lola von Miramar was born?

LLF: Well, at first Lola was just an internet project. But then she took a life of her own.

Fernos and Felion decided I would look good in drag and they invited me to dress up and do Cooking with Drag Queens with Lola von Miramar. … The video came out and it really took off. People they wanted to see Lola Von Miramar in person and I like to please my friends. … So I have performed in Latin America and the United States.

WCT: You're an academic and a scholarly author but you've also written short stories, plays and poetry. Were you always writing?

LLF: Pretty much since then I have been in school as a student, teacher or professor so, yes, I guess I have always been writing. … I was raised in a bilingual house in a bicultural framework; my father was American and my mother was Puerto Rican and, for me, it was important to be writing in Spanish.

WCT: What about performance? How did you get involved in that?

LLF: Reading fiction in public in New York in the 1990s was exciting and fun and I had friends who were in performance art and it was really appealing to me. There were also people and spaces where you could feel safe to do your own thing: Pregones Theater in the Bronx was one of those and The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Arthur Aviles and Charles Rice-GonzÃƒïż˝lez, That's how I ended up performing. … I did a one-man show in 2004 ( AboliciÃ"n del Pato/Abolition of the Duck ).

WCT: Coming from Puerto Rico to the United States, was it a difficult transition?

LLF: I came to the United States in 1986 to go to college. In Puerto Rico, I moved in bilingual and bicultural spaces and I found those same types of spaces here with people who responded to who I am.

WCT: Did you experience homophobia or racism in either the U.S. or Puerto Rico?

LLF: In both Puerto Rican and the United States, among the general population, there is lots of sexism and homophobia. And it can be very tricky to understand who are your allies and where it is safe to express your identity.

WCT: Have you seen movement on racism and sexism since you arrived?

LLF: I think we are living in very difficult and challenging times. And Puerto Rico is, of course, experiencing a great ( economic ) crisis. But these are also moments of great opportunity to have conversations and struggle to bring about change. There have been enormous gains in the LGBT community and women's rights. But the Orlando massacre reminds of the tremendous threats posed to the LGBT community—this is an important moment to be active and vocal about these issues and to recognize the need to vote and discuss.

WCT: What do you say to young people who are navigating their identity today?

LLF: It can be very difficult and it can be dangerous so you have to be careful. But it can also be very rewarding. You have to be true to yourself and that means listening to what your brain and your heart are telling you. And trying always to be aware of what is the best space and the appropriate space—that will nourish and allow you to be who you want to be. That may involve moving and finding new friends and different mentors. Look for role models and people who can give you advice.

You have to try to identify who is like you and who you want to be. In Puerto Rico, I knew [poet/novelist] Mayra Santos-Febres. We were both young in the 1990s and, for me, it was really crucial asking her how does one become a writer? And are you willing to read my short stories? She opened many doors. And she is world renowned as a Black Puerto Rican woman, who has also written about drag queens.

The free program on Saturday, Oct. 22, has the museum, the Great Books Foundation, the Chicago Cultural Alliance and Public Narrative as sponsors. To register, go to ChicagoCulturalAlliance.org/events/queerricans/.

Suzy Schultz is president of Public Narrative (formerly the Community Media Workshop).


This article shared 654 times since Wed Oct 19, 2016
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

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