Contemporary Latin American Fiction

City of Clowns (Part I and II, pages 1-64)- Daniel Alarcón

Entry Questions

What do NYC street performers tell us about our city? How do they relate to the clowns in Lima depicted by Daniel Alarcón?

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 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 morals. At the same time, he begins to chronicle the life of street clowns, sad characters who populate the city streets of Lima and is drawn into their haunting, fantastical world.

Alarcón depicts the city as a place where corruption and violence are rampant, and where the gap between the rich and poor is vast. This is exemplified by the way in which Chino’s family must navigate their way through the city in order to find work and make a living.

How Alarcón presents the complex connection between migration, families, and social instability?




An Evolving City/Neighborhood

The story highlights the cultural and socio-economic tensions that exist in Lima, as the city is home to a diverse population of indigenous people, Afro-Peruvians, and immigrants from other countries.

How San Juan becomes a microcosmos of Lima?

What social tensions are reflected in the interactions between the characters in the novel?

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.

Why do you think Alvarado choose that aesthetic? What elements from the text Alvarado wants to highlight? How do her images complement the story?

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

Writing Exercise: Steeping in a Character’s Shoes


1. Pick ONE of the following characters from the second part of the graphic story. Write a paragraph in which you expand on (or even contradict) what the narrator, Chino, is saying from the point of view of that character.

.the clown who sells mints and was attacked with water balloons

.Chino’s mother


.One of the shoeshine boys

.Carla the stilted or the sex worker

2. Use these questions to guide your writing:

How their specific urban environment affects their decisions?

How and why they are intervening in the socio-political landscape of the city?

What are their aspirations?

How are they surviving?

What social constraints and stigmas they are facing?

Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 1-65)


1. Read pages 1-65* 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 Wednesday, 3/1 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 do 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 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?

Russian Roulette- Geovani Martins

Geovani Martins was born in 1991 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He grew up with his mother in the Rio neighborhood of Vidigal. He supported his writing by working as a sandwich-board man and selling drinks on the beach and was discovered during creative writing workshops at Flup, the literary festival of the Rio favelas. The Sun on My Head is his first book.

Martins’ exploration of masculinity

Martins portrays masculinity as a fraught and often dangerous concept in the world of the favelas. Boys must constantly prove their toughness and strength in order to earn respect and avoid being seen as weak or vulnerable. This pressure often leads to risky and self-destructive behavior.

Compare how do the father and son characters in “Russian Roulette” navigate the expectations of masculinity while also trying to maintain their own sense of self and integrity?

Presentation (s)

Lopez Tavares,Adriana M


Writing Exercise

How do the film and the short story use impoverished neighborhoods as inspiration to tell their respective story?

How does Paulo’s fascination with the gun complement the examination of violence we saw in La playa DC?

How Martins ties masculinity and sexuality with gun ownership and violence in the story?

La Playa D.C.- Juan Andrés Arango García

The film’s context

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 Afro-descendants.

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, keeping 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 

The lyrical content of rap, primarily, provides words, resources, and knowledge for articulating similar but not identical lived problems encountered in different places and times.

The basic common denominator is the shared experience of marginality, understood as racial and ethnic discrimination, poverty, violence, and hardship.

Hip-hop also generates strong variations in local narratives, depending on the specific cultural contexts in which it is inscribed.  (Arlene Tickner, “Aquí en el Ghetto,” 130)

The song narrates a story of sadness and despair that characterizes everyday life in Bogota’s poor and violent neighborhood. The characters include a homeless man; a prostitute arrested 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. (Tickner, 134)

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

Civil War and Displacement

.Within the context of the Cold War Latin American left-wing armed struggles a number of insurgent groups emerged in Colombia.

.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.

.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.

.Shooting wars between the drug cartels between the cartels and the government, and 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.

How do the macro and micro-histories of violence intersect in La Playa DC?

Asynchronous Blog Post on La Playa D.C.


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

Case-specific password: roblesmejias3058

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section below. The deadline is 2/21 before the class.


Global Hip-hop relates to everyday life. It is a musical genre that focuses on poverty, inequality, exclusion, and discrimination. However, it allows performers to claim an empowered critical identity. MCs and Hip Hop artists offer musical, visual, linguistic, fashion, and corporal tools for commenting on society. 

Examine how Tomas and his brothers in La Playa D.C. participate in hip-hop subcultures in Bogotá, empowering themselves through its fashion, behaviors, and aesthetics.


Elaborate on how the film unveils different forms of displacement experienced by Afro-Colombians.


The film offers a complex portrait of masculinity, brotherhood, and loyalty. Unpack the layered relationship between the brothers.

Virus Tropical- Powerpaola and David Caicedo


Power Paola is a Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist. She is the author of several graphic memoirs. Her work deals with themes of sexuality, feminism, family, and personal identity. She is a member of the international comics collective Chicks on Comics.


Virus Tropical tells the story of growing up in a matriarcado. The story goes over her parents’ divorce, money problems, survival tactics, and moving between two countries as a form of empowerment and femme exploration. Powerpaola uses anecdotes about her parents, two older sisters, and housekeeper to explore her life story from girlhood to young womanhood.

On the Rising Interest in Women’s Stories

Paola: In the beginning, I didn’t think about feminism. It was just my story. I was always a feminist even without using that title. These days, we talk a lot about the current feminist moment/movement and my story talks a lot about the social climate we’re living in now. We [women artists] show that women can take ownership of their stories, and their lives and make their own decisions. We don’t need to ask for permission. The timing was just right for this story.

I love women’s stories. I love their voice. Growing up it was rare to find comic books [and graphic novels] by women, and now, it’s not like that.

On Creating the Eye-Popping Visual Style of Virus Tropical

Paola: It’s important to me to experiment. Over five years [of working on the project], I couldn’t draw everything the same way. I stopped thinking about how I could make the best drawing. You’ll notice some drawings are not as pretty as others. There are some drawings that are more expressive or more animated. There are many distinctions.

Caicedo: You sometimes have more sketchy animation than finished animation. It also has to fit within the character’s story. The main character is not finished, she’s only just starting to understand who she is. Animation-wise, that’s a lot of things we wanted to use: unfinished, sketchy drawings. It became a personality trait. You sometimes will also see super complex, almost baroque frames with a lot of information.



Buitrago Zapata,Isabela

Feminism and Graphic/Animated Storytelling

One of the main themes of Virus Tropical is the critique of traditional gender roles and the limitations imposed on women by a patriarchal-catholic society. The story of the comic and the film portrays the difficulties faced by Paola and other femme characters as they deal with the pressures and expectations of being women. Conforming to beauty standards, prioritizing motherhood and caregiving, or submitting to men’s desires and control are some of the situations the film addresses. The graphic novel and eventual film expose the harmful consequences of gender inequality and argue for the importance of women’s autonomy and agency.

With a partner discuss relevant scenes from the film that illustrates Powerpaola’s feminist views and how each character navigates and challenges patriarchal repression defending agency?

Asynchronous Blog Post on Virus Tropical


1. Watch the film Virus Tropical (Diego Salcedo and Powerpaola, 2016)

Password: roblesmejias3058

Spanish Language (no-sub) version: Here

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section below. The deadline is 2/15 before the class. 200-words minimum.


Pick TWO women in the film and compare their understanding and embodiments of gender. How do they navigate, follow or challenge traditional expectations about womanhood?


Analyze how ONE of the following factors allows ONE the characters to cope with the constraints of normative (middle-class/ heterosexual) family dynamics.

.institutionalized religion

.alternative spiritual practices/divination


.mind altering substances


Contrast the two cities in the animated film Quito (Ecuador), and Cali, (Colombia). How do these different urban spaces open up or close down other life possibilities for the characters?

Story with Bird- Liliana Colanzi


Liliana Colanzi was born in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, in 1981. She is a journalist and writer and is the author of the storybooks Permanent Vacations (2010), The Wave (2014), Our Dead World (2016) and You Shine in the dark (2022). She currently teaches Latin American literature and creative writing at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, and is also the editor and creator of the Dum Dum label, in Bolivia.

Fragmented Storytelling

“I wanted to experiment with other forms, another style of telling things. As you have well noticed, there are fragments that can be self-contained stories or independent stories, but when linked with the others they create a mosaic that says something more than each story individually or the sum of those particular stories.”

Unveiling Spaces

These are stories very anchored in an idea of ​​place. They are all Latin American spaces but Latin American spaces that have not been narrated often in Latin American Literature as Goiânia, for example, El Alto, La Paz, or the Bolivian Amazon. All the stories would seem to emanate from a landscape with a very particular history. And that story is sometimes more or less on the surface, but in most cases, it is a buried story that suddenly, due to something that happens, emerges, appears, and is related to the characters. It somehow defines what is happening to the characters.



Colonialism and Debt

Debt and Bondage

Contemporary Indigenous Relationship in Bolivia

Group Discussion

Unpack and bring evidence from the Doctor’s and Damián’s narration using the frame of colonial extraction, debt, and bondage.

Groups 1 and 2 (pages 87-89)

Groups 3 and 4 (pages 89-93)

Groups 5 and 6 (pages 97-99)

Experimental Narration:

How do the different narrators complement, contradict, and add nuance to the story? What are the connections between all of them?

How do you interpret the end of the story? Who is/are narrating? Is it the doctor, other characters we read before, or someone new?

Asynchronous Blog Post on “Story with Bird”

1. Read Liliana Colanzi’s “Story with Bird” (Blackboard)

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 2/6 before the class. 200-words minimum.


Analyze the use of debt in Colanzy’s story as an ongoing colonial practice of enslavement. Expand on the plantation as a space that reproduces colonial hierarchies and oppression.


Elaborate on two of the narrators in “Story with Bird,” what aspects of the narrative do they illuminate? What aspects do they silence? Do you trust them? How do they complement each other, and how do they differentiate?


Discuss how Colanzi explores the possibilities (or lack) of accountability in the story regarding the crimes of the protagonists.