[PICTURED: Writer Carlos Barón, illustrator Itzel Cruz and silkscreen artist Manuel Tapia pose for a portrait at “Tapia Ediciones,” Tapia’s home and studio in Veracruz, México. Photo: Diana Azucena Hernández]

A few days ago, my wife Azucena and I got back from the historic Port of Veracruz, Mexico.

It was a wonderful adventure, one that provided us with a continuous sense of amazement and joy. Not only for the natural beauty of its surroundings, but also for the warmth and creativity of its people.

Our purpose was to visit Azucena’s family and to reconnect with some friends. Happily,  as soon as we got there, we also started to enjoy an array of cultural events that made our visit much richer than we expected or dreamt. 

First, we arrived in time to partake in the celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of “Librería Mar Adentro,” a wonderful bookstore that we had “discovered” four years ago. According to Azucena, who grew up in the Port of Veracruz, Mar Adentro “is one of the best things to happen to the Port in the last 10 years!” 

I agree. The bookstore is well-stocked with — mostly — new books in Spanish, although it has many titles translated from various languages. It also specializes in sea-driven stories and books, real and fictional, an apt recognition of the rich and long history of the Port of Veracruz.

“Mar Adentro,” true to “Books, Art and Coffee,” a phrase announcing its offerings, is enhanced by the awesome “Cafetería Mar Adentro,” where we spent many hours enjoying their delectable menu. It includes Mexican delicacies, such as various types of tamales, well-made pasta dishes and sandwiches, sweet homemade desserts and a very satisfying coffee.

On the third floor, there are more books and a medium-sized room where we enjoyed some compelling cultural presentations. Two nights after we arrived there, we were lucky to partake in a wonderful discussion of a new book on the history of “Jarocho” music, with scholars and practitioners sharing the spotlight. 

For those lucky enough to make the trip to the Puerto, the bookstore is located in the “Centro Histórico” of Veracruz.

As we were attending an event in that bookstore, we had the fortune to meet the generous artist Manuel Tapia, of “Tapia Ediciones.”

Manuel, originally from Izúcar de Matamoros in Puebla, has moved his amazing art to the Port of Veracruz. He is the founder and main force of Tapia Ediciones. There, Manuel works his magic through silkscreen posters, or designing, illustrating and printing handmade books. Each book that comes out of “Tapia Ediciones” is a one-of-a-kind effort. Manuel, sometimes aided by young aspiring artists, manually binds and sews the books, one at a time. An extremely rare feast nowadays.

When I saw Manuel dancing to some spirited “son jarocho” on a platform placed in the patio of the “Cafetería Mar Adentro,” I felt an immediate connection with him. Here was another artist unafraid to actively participate in a variety of artistic expressions! On top of that, he was willing to be the first to start the dancing, with a vigorous and happy “zapateado.” He smiled broadly, the heels of his shoes enthusiastically hitting the relatively small wooden platform.

I approached Manuel and we had a good first conversation. Almost right away, when I told him that I wrote theater and poetry, he said: “Let’s print some of your poems!”

That was music to my ears. As a theater professor at SF State, I was not asked to publish my work: the productions that I directed, produced and wrote or adapted were considered publications. The old “publish or perish” sentence did not apply to my career.

Thus, I have written much and published little. This invitation by Manuel Tapia was a gift!

We talked a bit about his work and his mission. “I like to help artists who are beginning their careers. To give them opportunities to learn and grow as artists, as people. I set strict rules for myself: I do not accept work involving something I disagree with, politically or aesthetically.”

Asked about the handmade, artisan quality of his work, he replied: “Everything here is handmade. Unique.” We were then talking in his modest but welcoming workshop/living space. It is located in La Huaca, perhaps the most popular and traditional neighborhood in the Port of Veracruz. In conversation, there were three other artists, young graphic designers and poets. This visit to Maestro Tapia and his faithful dog, Yuki, seemed to be a daily ritual.

It was there where we met Itzel Cruz, a young woman whose art work will be featured in an upcoming book of some of my poems. Because that book is coming! And her art will kick butt!

Manuel Tapia, being the vertiginous worker that he is, wanted to print about 50 copies of a bilingual, 40-page, handmade silk screened book in a few days! Nevertheless, we agreed that Itzel Cruz would perhaps need more time to create. 

 Manuel Tapia, checking his silkscreen work. Photo: Diana Azucena Hernández

Thus, in mid-September, about six weeks from today, I will be back in the Port of Veracruz, filled with anticipation and confidence that this wonderful artistic and human connection will result in a book worthy of our hopes and dreams.