Contemporary Latin American Fiction

City of Clowns (Pages 65-133)- Daniel Alarcón


The syllabus of this course was inspired by the conceptualization  of “states of emergency” by Puerto Rican writer, and professor Jotacé López. López argues that  “The state of emergency is the exception, the overturned routine, the searing pause, the lost tranquility.” Just like we have been seeing with Oscar/Chino in City of Clowns, subjectivities and stability are put in question or are performed critically by the authors and filmmakers we explored.  In this course, we engaged in a complex discussion about current Latin American fiction via literary and cinematic works. As López suggests, the vulnerability of bodies and the deteriorating circumstances in which life occurs were at the center of these narratives. Similar to Alarcón, the writers and filmmakers we put in conversation were addressing gender, sexual and gun violence, racism and anti-blackness, governmental corruption, (sub) urban decay, lack of economic opportunities, displacements, exile, diaspora, and family separations. As Alarcón reflected in his Macarthur Grant video we noticed that these literary and audiovisual texts challenge borders and fixed national/political constructs presenting instead hemispheric fluidity and archipelagic flows. The states of emergency point towards global crisis, of course, but also to all the inventive ways that people are using to survive, envision futures, narrate their realities, and create spaces for achieving self-reliance and hope.

Entry Questions

Write your response in a card and share it with a partner:

.What did you learn in our class?

.What was your favorite topic/reading/film/author/assignment?

.What was difficult this semester and how did you overcome that obstacle?

Oral/slide presentations


Williams,Christian I


Jeune Dumeny,Santiella



Group Discussion

Look and discuss the images created by Sheila Alvarado. How they expand the following topics present in Alarcón’s story.

.Fatherless Realities/ Collapsing Patriarchy

.The city as an attractive menace

.Movement and migration

.Socio-economic struggles/disparities

.Uncovering repress memories

How do these states of emergency compare to the narratives we watched and read during the second half of the semester?

Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 65-133)

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Read pages 65-133* of Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado’s graphic story City of Clowns.

*Pages 11-27 in the original text-only version.*

3. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 12/06 before the class. 200-word minimum.


Read the following paragraph and discuss your understanding of the title: City of Clowns

I thought about clowns. They had become, to my surprise, a kind of refuge. Once I’d started looking for them, I found them everywhere. They organized the city for me: buses, street corners, plazas. They suited my mood. Appropriating the absurd, embracing shame, they transformed it. Laugh at me. Humiliate me. And, when you do, I’ve won. Lima was, in fact, and in spirit, a city of clowns. (68)

How Sheila Alvarado represents the vision of a city “organized” by clowns?


Elaborate on Chino’s transformations into Piraña and a clown. What are his motivations to assume these personalities?


Pick two different sections of the second half and discuss how Sheila Alvarado illustrates Chino’s fallout with his father and mother. How does she compose Chino’s conflicting states of mind?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about the second half of City of Clowns do you want to bring into the discussion?

City of Clowns (Pages 1-64)- Daniel Alarcón

Entry Questions

What topics from the second half of the semester would you like to engage with for the final project? Do you want to propose a question?

Daniel Alarcón is a writer and radio producer exploring the social, cultural, and linguistic ties that connect people across Latin America and Spanish-speaking communities in the Americas. His powerful narrative storytelling—in English and Spanish, fiction and nonfiction, print and audio—chronicles individual lives and underreported topics against the backdrop of broader geopolitical and historical forces in the United States and Central and South America.

7:30- 9:25 / 11:55-14:30

Oscar “Chino” Uribe is a young Peruvian journalist for a local tabloid paper. After the recent death of his philandering father, he must confront the idea of his father’s other family, and how much of his own identity has been shaped by his father’s murky morals. At the same time, he begins to chronicle the life of street clowns, sad characters who populate the violent and corrupt city streets of Lima and is drawn into their haunting, fantastical world.

Oral/slide presentations

Young,Jathiya Barry

Ramos-Hunter,Evon M

Robles Aparicio,Emelin

Scott,Shayla Monique


Images and storytelling

Sheila Alvarado’s artwork plays with perspective, shadows, and time, with oversized clowns stomping over the cityscape, eerie images depicted in shadows, and characters drifting outside and between panels.

The graphic novel paints a dark portrait of a Lima, Peru fraught with corruption and violence while maintaining a twisted sort of humor and irony. Alvarado’s black and white pictures create a dramatic representation of the city where Alarcón was born.

Alvarado’s artwork seizes and exaggerates the unpolished and disorienting mood of Alarcón’s story.

-Kay T. Xia, “City of Clowns a Swirling Metropolis of Memories”

Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 1-64)

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Read pages 1-64* of Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado’s graphic story City of Clowns.

*Pages 1-11 in the original text-only version.*

3. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/29 before the class. 200-word minimum.


One of the narrative goals of this first part of the novel is to put together a portrait of Lima. Based on Oscar (Chino)’s account how would you describe  Perú’s capital? To what extent Chino’s emotional state and his family’s history affect his perception of different urban environments?


The clowns in the story are not represented as humorous silly figures, what do you think the clowns are emphasizing so far? Beyond the reportage Chino is writing, what do you think is going to be their role in the story?


What does the choice of illustrating in a high contrast black and white do? Pick two different sections of this first half and discuss how Sheila Alvarado’s illustrations synthesize, add layers of meaning and/or complement Daniel Alarcón’s narration.  How do you interpret the isolated illustrations without text?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about the first half of City of Clowns do you want to bring into the discussion?

Meeting with Enrique Lihn [and Victor Jara]-Roberto Bolaño

Entry Question

Stylistically, Bolaño’s “Meting with Enrique Lihn” recuperates some of the tenets of the Infrarealist literary movement that Bolaño co-founded with other poets in Mexico during the mid 70s. The infrarealists thought of the poet as an adventurer, visionary, outsider, and intellectual provocateur. They believe in a poetry that could incorporate a mixture of languages and genres into the text as a way of representing the full integration of the poet into all areas of life, including the unconscious. For them there are invisible levels of reality that need to be uncovered by the poet/writer.

“A new lyricism that’s beginning to grow in Latin America sustains itself in ways that never cease to amaze us. The entrance to the work is the entrance to adventure: the poem as a journey and the poet as a hero who reveals heroes. Tenderness as an exercise in speed. Respiration and heat. Experience shot, structures that devour themselves, insane contradictions. The poet is interfering, the reader will have to interfere for himself.”

Manifesto of Infrarealism

Do you identify in the short story some of these ideas? Explain.

A Dream Meeting Between Bolaño, Lihn and Jara is a Meeting Between Ghosts

After reading the last section of the story (199) and reflecting too on the documentary Massacre at the Stadium why do you think Bolaño talks about a city inhabited by the dead.

What is imply by the observations regarding facades of another time, “a terrible time that endured for no reason other than sheer inertia”? What are the political argument behind this phrase?

How Lihn’s notion of war complements Bolaño’s dreamscape?

Six Solitudes

Who were them?

Roberto Bolaño

Enrique Lihn was a Chilean poet, playwright, and novelist. Born in 1929 in Santiago, Chile, Lihn aspired to be a painter, but after a failed attempt during university, he abandoned that dream to pursue writing. His work revolved around his contempt for the contemporary dictatorship as Chile was governed by a military junta. Works layered with social, political, and religious commentary are common throughout Lihn’s canon.

Víctor Jara was a Chilean teacher, theater director, poet, singer-songwriter and socialist political activist tortured and killed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The contrast between the themes of his songs—which focused on love, peace, and social justice—and the brutal way in which he was murdered transformed Jara into a potent symbol of struggle for human rights and justice for those killed during the Pinochet regime.

Oral/slide presentations

Omane,Felicia Abena Agyeiwah

Pacheco,Emily Anais


Pulla,Yamilee J

Film Noir and Bolaño


How Bolaño constructs his dream as the journey of Film Noir (anti) hero?

How Bolaño integrates Film Noir aesthetics and narrative tropes to his nightmarish representation of Lihn and Jara? 191-2; 196-7

Asynchronous Blog Post on Bolaño, Lihn, and Massacre at the Stadium

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Watch the Netflix documentary Massacre at The Stadium  (Bent Jorgen Perlmutt, 2019).

2. Read Roberto Bolaño’s short story “Meeting with Enrique Lihn” and the poem “Six Solitudes” by Enrique Lihn.

3. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/22 before the class. 200-words minimum.


According to the documentary, why singer-songwriter Victor Jara was considered an enemy of Augusto Pinochet’s right-wing military regime? Why do you think Bolaño brings a distorted Jara into his story? How this ghostly figure fits into Bolaño’s nightmarish narrative?


In “Meeting with Enrique Lihn” Roberto Bolaño says that Chile and its capital Santiago “once resemble hell, a resemblance that, in some subterranean layer of the real city and the imaginary city, will forever remain” (191). Explain this quote by bringing examples from the documentary Massacre at the Stadium.


After reading these two sections from “Six Solitudes” by Enrique Lihn discuss how Bolaño builds the dream atmosphere of his short story using Lihn’s poetic style and imagery.

Six Solitudes


The unending loneliness from which others drink
at happy hour
is not my cup, but my grave. I bring it to my lips
and flail within it till I slip from sight
into its morbid waves.
Loneliness for me is not a caged bird but a monster,
as if I were living with an insane asylum.

Everyone’s waiting for war but me.
The housewife is waiting for war
with the invading rats.
Kids are waiting for the future,
for the war ahead.
Men walk the warpath
with banners and slogans.
All but me, who am waiting for what?
Waiting for poetry.
Waiting for nothing.


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about the documentary or the literary sources do you want to bring into the discussion?

La playa D.C. and Aquí en el Ghetto

Entry Question

In Colombia, the 1990s began with a new constitution, passed in 1991, that highlighted the pluricultural and multiethnic nature of the country and created new participatory mechanisms and citizen rights at the same time, this period also witnessed rising poverty and inequity due in large measure to neoliberal reform, the expansion of the drug trade, the intensification of the domestic armed conflict, and the explosion of multiple forms of violence. Therefore, the narratives produced by progressive or “real” hip-hop consist primarily of lyrical representations of suffering in marginal populations, street life in the urban ghettos, and domestic and international facets of the internal war.

-Arlene Tickner, “Aquí en el Ghetto” (137)

Aquí en el Ghetto- A. Tickner 

The group Asilo 38 stands out for its wide-ranging commentary on the country’s economic, political, and social problems. The group originated in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, which is located near the Pacific port of Buenaventura and harbors its largest urban black population. (Page 138)

What were the different coping mechanisms represented by La Playa D.C. to deal with the violence and displacement of the civil war?

Historical Context

.”La violencia”

[La violencia was] ten years of brutal civil war between Liberals and Conservatives, a bloodletting so horrific that all Colombians simply refer to it as La Violencia. No one knows how many died. Estimates range from 180,000 to more than 200,000, making it far more devastating, given Colombia’s size than the U.S. Civil War. Death squads roamed the countryside on orders of the landed oligarchy, butchering any farmer suspected of being a Liberal, while guerrilla bands of Liberal Party supporters targeted the biggest landowners. (156)

La Violencia ended in 1957 after Liberal and Conservative leaders reached an agreement to alternate power. But the years of bloodshed had uprooted and permanently disfigured much of Colombian society… Violence. meanwhile emerged as an accepted Colombian way of settling disputes, not just in the countryside where the civil war had raged but in the cities and shantytowns created by the war’s refugees. (157)

.FARC guerilla vs Colombian State and its Paramilitary forces

Disaffected youths from urban slums became easy recruits for new left-wing guerrilla groups, such as M-19, while in the countryside, the FARC (Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution) and other revolutionary organizations wrested control of whole regions from the government. Several of the new revolutionary groups were started by former Liberal party members who did not accept the power-sharing truce that ended La Violencia [a civil war during the 40s and 50s], while others were newly inspired by the Cuban revolution.  (157)

The  Colombian army, unable to stamp out the guerrillas launched a dirty war against their supporters. Thousands were abducted, killed, or jailed by both soldiers and right-wing paramilitary groups on the slightest suspicion that they were sympathetic to the guerrilla. (158)

.Drug Cartels

In late 1975, drug lords from Cali and Medellín coalesced into competing cartels that battled each other for control of the world’s cocaine market. (157-8)

Those Colombians who refused the cartels’ bribes were simply terrorized into submission or killed. No one was safe. (161)

The cycle of violence in Colombian society was throwing the country into virtual anarchy. Shooting wars between the drug cartels between the cartels and the government, between the guerrillas and the cartels. and between the guerrillas and the government led to constant outbreaks of bombings, kidnappings, hijacking, and assassinations, as well as complex and labyrinthine alliances between those responsible. (160)

-Juan González, Harvest of Empire

Peace Agreement

In 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement after three years of negotiations and at least four failed peace talks since 1982.

Central Agreements:

.Land reform and restitution

.Political participation

.Reincorporation of ex-combatants and security guarantees

.Substitutions of illicit crops

.Victims reparations and the protections of the civilians

Overall, only 6 % of the goals and objectives set out in the peace accord were accomplished between 2018 and 2019.

Oral/Slide Presentations

Gonzalez,Diego A


Grechka,Inna V

Jara,Yecienia Natali

Hip Hop and Latin America

Hip Hop resonates in Latin America and the Caribbean because of its legacy of colonialism and slavery. There is a rich oral tradition in the region connected to the stories of people with African roots. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa — up to 70 percent of the population in some countries. The region imported over ten times as many slaves as the United States and kept them in bondage far longer. Hip Hop in Latin America reminds us how the African cultural contribution is often forgotten or ignored.

Contextualizing Hip Hop 

Hip-hop exhibits a series of shared meanings and aesthetics that confirm the existence of a translocal network of cultural practices. The lyrical content of rap, especially, provides words, resources, and knowledge for articulating similar but not identical lived problems encountered in distinct places and times. The basic common denominator of this translocal space is the shared experience of marginality, understood as racial and ethnic discrimination, poverty, violence, and hardship. Hip-hop’s location in everyday life problems, however, also generates strong variations in local narratives, depending on the specific cultural contexts in which it is inscribed.  (Tickner 130)

Case Studies

I. Colombia

The song narrates a story of sadness and despair that characterizes everyday life in a poor and violent neighborhood in Bogota. The characters include a homeless man; a prostitute arrested for the umpteenth time for drug possession; her small children, who are forced to earn a living cleaning car windshields at stoplights; and an innocent youth unfairly accused of trying to steal an expensive car and then shot down and killed by the corrupt police. (134)

How this song by La Etnia compares to what the film La Playa D.C. depicts?

Asynchronous Blog Post on La Playa D.C. and Aquí en el Ghetto

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Rent the film La Playa D.C.  (Juan Andrés Arango, 2013).

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/15 before the class.


“What makes hip-hop unique among popular musical genres is the way it relates to everyday life. In reflecting on poverty, inequality, exclusion, and discrimination; claiming a positive identity based on these conditions; and offering musical, linguistic, and corporal tools for commenting on them, it transcends the bounded sites where it is practiced and participates in a symbolic network that circulates globally. However, hip-hop is also markedly local, in that lived experience is rearticulated in the contents of rap lyrics, which speak to the daily concerns of its practitioners; and in graffiti and breakdancing, which occupy and resignify the streets and neighborhoods where they are performed. (Page 121)

-Arlene B. Tickner, “Aquí en el Ghetto: Hip Hop in Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico”

Reflecting on the film through this quote from Tickner’s essay, examine how Tomas and his brothers in La Playa D.C. participate from hip hop’s “symbolic networks” in Bogotá, rearticulating practices in their impoverished neighborhood.

*Remember to think about hip hop beyond music and rap lyrics.*


Thinking of Hip Hop as a lyrical art, write a reflection poem about your takeaways from La Playa D.C.


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about La Playa D.C do you want to bring into the discussion?

I’m No Longer Here and Cumbia Cosmopolatina

Cumbia: Well-traveled Music

Musicologist Deborah Pacini Hernández, argues that Cumbia “fit the descriptions of being well-traveled and having evolved into numerous styles, although the sophisticated gloss provided by the term “cosmopolatino” obscures cumbia’s much more humble roots and complicated routes through the Americas over the past century.


Cumbia’s aesthetic origins are in pre-twentieth-century coastal Colombian folk culture, where it articulated the hybrid sensibilities of that region’s tri-ethnic population of mixed African, European, and native ancestries. In the 1940s and 1950s, commercialized variants of cumbia were popularized throughout Colombia and then spread to other parts of Spanish-speaking Latin America to the south (Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina) and to the north (Central America and Mexico), where it became embedded and resignified in (primarily) working-class and mestizo communities—and then, via Mexican immigrants, to the United States as well. Cumbia remains deeply rooted in working-class Latin/o American communities, but its recent global variants have become unmoored from any particular social group or location. (106)

Oral/Slide Presentations

Thomas,Christi D


Young,Jathiya Barry


Mexican Connections

By the turn of the millennium, Mexicans had reconfigured and resignified cumbia to such an extent that many Mexicans believe cumbia is of Mexican origin. (107)

Interestingly, although rock ’n’ roll was embraced most avidly by urbanites in central Mexico, the development of the grupero style was very active in northeastern Mexico, where norteño groups were concurrently incorporating cumbias into accordion-based repertoires. (122)

How the Mexican characters in I’m No Longer Here “reconfigured” cumbia?


Mexican migration to the United States has always been steady, but in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which had the effect of displacing millions of Mexican workers, the Mexican-born population in the United States exploded between 1990 and 2000, increasing 52.9 percent, from 13.5 million to 20.6 million.  Once in the United States, surrounded by other homesick migrants seeking to combat the anxieties of displacement with music firmly anchored in Mexico, the accordion-based sounds of norteño, once associated primarily with northern Mexican working-class culture, became increasingly linked to the migratory experiences of all Mexican immigrants.  (122-3)

Since migrants typically introduce musical practices from their homelands to their host societies, music and migration are generally directly linked. The literature is full of accounts of the many ways migrants use and transform their music in new settings: as a link to home, as a form of cultural resistance, as a way of negotiating emergent identities, as a way of strengthening ethnic, racial, or class solidarities. (137)

Can you identify these aspects highlighted by Pacini Hérnandez in I’m No Longer Here? Do you think that cumbia represents all of these things to Ulises, the main character? How does the film question inter-Latinx solidarity?

Asynchronous Blog Post on I’m No Longer Here

In Monterrey, Mexico, a young street “gang” spends their days dancing to slowed-down cumbia and attending parties. After a mix-up with a local cartel, their leader Ulises is forced to migrate to the U.S. but struggles to find his way in a foreign land and quickly longs to return home.

ASYNCHRONOUS BLOG POST (Deadline: 11/08 before the class)


1. Watch the Netflix film I’m No Longer Here (Fernando Frías, 2019)

2. In the comment section down below answer ONE of the following prompts (2oo-words minimum).


I’m No Longer Here suggests that once you migrate it’s impossible to reproduce your homeland and more so to really return to your place of origin. Expand on this idea by referring to the journey of the protagonist, Ulises.


Compare the two major cities and neighborhoods represented in the film: Monterrey and New York. How do Ulises experiences poverty and community differently in each of these spaces?


Discuss the importance of costume, hair, and sound design in I’m No Longer Here. Why do you think these particular elements are central to telling the story and presenting the cultural identity of the characters and their Cumbia sub-culture?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about I’m No Longer Here do you want to bring to the discussion?