Contemporary Latin American Fiction

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?

21 thoughts on “Asynchronous Blog Post on La Playa D.C. and Aquí en el Ghetto”

  1. Option two:

    Isn’t it strange
    That it takes leaving a place,
    to truly appreciate its worth.
    Isn’t it odd
    That missing
    Something, someone, somewhere
    Can give us so much purpose;
    Simply not having what we desire,
    Causes us to forge paths
    Otherwise left unexplored,
    the bad, the ugly & the good
    There is solace in the city through art.

    1. My city , my home, my birth place
      There will never be a place like her
      The odds of survival although slim
      Brings about the beauty of things
      Local drug lords and kingpins
      This place seems fitting

      My city, my home, my birth place
      Time to say goodbye
      Unhear your cries, unsee your crimes
      and finally disband my ties
      No longer do i wish to feel pain
      Because a better place calls my name

  2. In the film “La Playa D.C.”, the three brothers all use hip-hop as a form of expression to portray representation from the streets as not a form of poverty but instead a badge of honor. Instead of their poverty being shown by physical appearance and hygiene, Tomas and Chaco have extensive wardrobes of street clothes and always keep them clean as well as their clothes. Jairo on the other hand is a drug addict and though he may not always be if clean appearance he is seen using hip hop to represent himself when he is break dancing for Dona Maria. There is also the small scene towards the end of the film of him styling hair showing that he knows his in’s and out’s of designing hair too. On the matter of designing hair, Chaco is adept at it and brings Tomas to see his friend Nelson who owns a barbershop at the mall. Tomas is immediately infatuated by the craftsmanship behind the intricate designs in the unique hair styles and starts designing cuts of his own. Eventually, we start to see him gravitate away from his and Chaco’s plan to raise enough money to leave the country and instead absorb himself in the Afro-Colombian culture. In the closing scene after Jairo’s death, Tomas ultimately makes the choice to use the money Chaco hid from him to buy the clippers to return to Nelson and when Nelson allows him to keep them, the movie ends with him trying to make a living for himself setting up outside a local shop and doing original haircuts of his own design on the passerbys. Chaco tells him earlier that he will never understand that the security guards aren’t the guard dogs, that it is them who will always be the dogs in this country. This shows that even though they both embrace their hip-hop culture, the older brother accepts their culture as the lesser in the public eye and the younger brother sees their difference as their strength.

    1. Hi, You made a lot of really good points about hip hop interacting in each of the brothers’ lives. You saying they use hip hop to portray “the streets as not a form of poverty but instead a badge of honor” fits the movie and highlights the keys points made by Arlene B. Tickner, in“Aquí en el Ghetto: Hip Hop in Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico.” Tickner also talks extensively about hip hop’s two-fold nature of being limitless and not restricted to any one area while also being uniquely local, which the movie displays prominently. Chaco coming back from the United States and sharing elements of hip hop culture he found there shows the borderless ways of hip hop, but he and his brothers also have a special hand in curating how they participate in hip hop’s “symbolic networks” blending specific elements of their culture and lives of growing up on the coast, ranging from the hardships they faced and the art forms they already used for expression like dance. Hip hop becomes, as you and Tickner point out, a way of them redefining what it means to be from their home and how they can redefine their futures.

    2. I really like your response because you related to how the brothers viewed themselves to the quote by Arlene B. Tickner. The statement you used where you said they express their badge of honor of who they really are and not use it as a form of poverty was a really good statement. Even with the whole poverty thing going on Tomas and Chaco try to find a way to make money where Chaco introduced Tomas to his friend Nelson to help him learn how to cut. The statement you used about Jairo using hip hop as a way to show who he really is even though he is a drug addict shows his expression of poetry like the quote showed. The quote showed how they express poetry and this movie and interpretation by you shows how Tomas and Chaco want to leave their past behind but their brother is stuck getting involved with trouble. Both brothers want to escape poverty but we can see how Jairo keeps going back to doing drugs and thinking about his past and wanting to go back and not to the future of his life. This ties back into the quote of how these people try to cope with these conditions where in the end when Jairo dies Chaco ends up leaving to control his future while Tomas doesn’t want to leave his place and try to make a living on his own as a barber.

  3. “La Playa D.C.” tells the story of the middle child of three brothers finding a new way to express himself and others through tropas. Tropas is a kinda of hair styling focused making intricate braids in all shapes and sizes. And the movie and its protagonist gives us the crash course, covering extensive on the subject and its numerous variations. Including the main character’s own tropas, a mini project he develops showing his pride and paying tribute to his hometown. But his new found pride in this newly discovered underculture clashes with the desires of his older brother to leave the city. Unlike his younger brother, he has no appreciation for the culture of the city around him. But that is also understandable as he is forced into a position where he has to look out for the future of he and his brothers. While the youngest brother is woelly unconcerned with the desires of his siblings and seeks to only express himself in the purest way through his dance. Though he is a little bit too carefree in his own life, indulging in drugs and racking up debt. Perhaps that’s why the eldest is so determined to leave everything behind them for newer pastures and start anew.

    1. The movie has a great representation of how two brothers from the same family choose different life paths. The first one become a victim of the society and followed a crime path which is completely skewed moral views and life perception. Another brother by living in a not welcomed society decided to make things different and not to be a victim. He chose self realization in work and expression himself in art of haircut. During the time so many people in community treat him with a respect and wanted to come to him for service. This situation is perfect example of how to gain respect and proof yourself by choosing hard work and doing what you are really passion about.

  4. For option two I wrote two poems:

    Brothers share a lot
    but there’s always the black sheep
    leaving someone else in the middle.

    Hair is not just hair
    it’s both style, and status
    hair is reinvention

    1. Hey, I really like your poem. What stuck out to me was the last stanza of your poem. It stuck out to me because I thought hair was one of the biggest part of the film. We see Tomas and his brother expressing themselves through cutting hair. You’re right, hair is reinvention and we see this portrayed throughout the film. Tomas and his brother use hair cutting and designing as an outlet and a way to express themselves. These parts of the movie where hair styling was a the main focus, reminded me of “I’m no Longer Here”. In both stories we see a person trying to navigate their lives and as a way to express themselves throughout everything happening, they use hair as a source of creativity and expression.

  5. Option 2:
    Have you ever had to say goodbye?

    Bogota city, where it was all just pity’s.
    My “father” who did nothing but perderse del barrio.
    Dear brother porque nacimos en este barrio,
    Where only the music made it all therapeutic.
    But mom it’s time for us to say goodbye and please no tears running down your eye.
    Because I promise I’ll be back and hopefully this time we won’t look back.

  6. Tomas and his brothers in La Playa D.C. participate in hip hop’s symbolic networks in Bogotá. Arelene B. Tickner describes hip hop as a way of expressing everyday life including poverty, inequality,discrimination etc. The three brothers use hip hop as a form of representation of their own lives considering how they grew up. They obviously didn’t grow up in the best neighborhoods with the best financial situation so I believe that’s why Jairo is drawn to hip hop and dancing, it could also be seen as an outlet for Jairo. Jairo is immersed into dance and hip hop while also getting involved with drugs. Tomas and Chaco, the older brothers, develop a desire to leave Bogotá and that scene behind. I believe the oldest brother longs to leave more to start new and not deal with what they deal with in their home country.

  7. In the film the brother that is deported back is dressed with clothes that is used during the time of hip-hop starting. He uses clothes that is fresh and is a way of identifying himself. Also, with the hair and the designs that people use to express themselves and as a way to tell there stories and being part of this hip-hop community. Moreover, even with the music that is played even though it isn’t much it still brings back that story telling idea of what is life for people part of this community. Focusing on the crime, poverty, discrimination, and drug use that is found in the neighborhood that Tomas lives and even if it isn’t in the same region they still could relate to it.

    1. Hi Diego,

      You made some really good points of identifying the hip-hop culture in terms of clothing and hairstyles that was portrayed in this movie. I agree with your point of the music that was being played didn’t provide much context in regards to the storytelling aspect. However, in my opinion, I think its a great thing how music is nonetheless a positive/healthy coping mechanism. The music played is essentially an escape from reality and unique in describing the brother’s personality regarding what they like. Chaco and Tomas both use music and art to cope and express themselves. The youngest brother however, we were the first to learn that he instead turned to drugs to cope instead. It seems like Tomas and Chaco were engaging with hip-hop culture more than Jairo. Chaco with his streetwear was a huge symbol representing hip-hop culture. Tomas learning specific art designs and using them in haircuts also engages with hip-hop culture. At the end of the movie, I think it was impactful when the 2 brothers went their separate ways and seeing Tomas use his skills to run a one-man barber shop on the streets. At the end of the day they are brothers who are still being true to the side of their artistic expressions, especially influenced by hip-hop, with music and art.

    2. I really liked that the main character showed as incredible strong and determined person. Besides the fact that he is not going on the crime side and desire to work hard to become someone in society. From psychological point of view we can see strong will not to be a victim in life and achieving self realization by expressing himself in an art of hair style.

  8. In La Playa D.C., Tomas and his brothers embrace hip-hop culture by way of their choice of apparel and haircuts. From the beginning of the film, we see the run-down neighborhood in which Tomas and his family live. We learn that his younger brother Jairo has fallen victim to drug addiction and has a bounty on his head for stealing drugs from a local gang. It isn’t until the moment that we meet Chaco, Tomas’s older brother, that anything positive begins to happen in the movie. Before we are introduced to Chaco, we learn that he’s highly regarded in the neighborhood because of his style of dress. His clothes, of course, are “hip-hop” in nature — baggy shirts and jackets and caps with “loud” designs worn sideways. Once Tomas starts hanging out with Chaco, he begins to learn about and embrace this hip-hop culture. Chaco and his friends begin to teach Tomas, who has already shown artistic ability, how to shave designs as a barber. In the club scene, we see that almost everyone has a unique design on their head. Throughout the film, the more complex designs we see are also regarded as “best.” Having no means of improving their lives due to a vicious circle of poverty, expressing themselves through their clothes and their haircuts seems to be the best way to distinguish themselves from others. It also demonstrates a rejection of what might be regarded as the “correct” way to dress, making it easy for mall guards to profile Chaco and Tomas and kick them out.

  9. The movie La Playa D.C, tells the story of Tomas, the middle brother who navigates his artistic journey through tropas. Tropas is an African hairstyle used to make designs with braids or regular cool designs on people’s heads. Tomas has two other brothers who are Jairo, the youngest brother who has a crack addiction, and Chaco who is his older brother that recently got deported from El Norte, which is the US. At the beginning of the movie, Tomas lives with his mother and stepfather, and their baby. Tomas doesn’t like his stepfather and you can tell when his mother offered him a security guard position and he says he doesn’t want to be a security guard like his stepfather. He leaves his home shortly after the stepfather disrespected the younger brother and called him a junkie. In the middle of the movie you learn why Chaco wanted to leave the country, they enter a shopping mall and they are harassed by security guards and have to run out but still get caught. Chaco turns to Tomas and expresses he was humiliated and that’s why he left. I’m guessing there is a little afro population where they resided because everyone around them is light-skinned. Even though, Tomas wanted to express his artistic passion through tropas he still struggled by babysitting his brother, his addiction, and trying to help him out to try to please his older brother that wants to leave the country again.

  10. The cycle brought me here
    The cycle will keep me here
    Close to her and her temptations and desires
    Dragging everyone she wants
    To debt, to ruins, to drugs, to violence

    But she is not life
    I do not want to be here
    She takes life
    I do not want to be here
    She is not my dreams

    I will get out
    With my work I’ll get out
    I will break free from her grasp
    I choose me
    I choose life

    I will break the cycle

  11. When it comes to hip-hop in the film La Playa D.C., the three brothers all use it as a way of expression to show representation from the streets as not a symbol of poverty but a badge of glory. While their physical appearance and hygiene may indicate their poverty, Chaco and Tomas have huge collections of street clothing and constantly keep them clean. Hip hop serves as a way for the three brothers to express their experiences as they grew up. Jairo’s interest in hip-hop and dance maybe because he grew up in a poor neighborhood, and it may also be considered an outlet for him. Dance and hip hop are two of Jairo’s favorite pastimes, but he is also getting into narcotics. For the brothers, music is a way to escape from reality and express their individuality regarding what they enjoy listening to. Similarly, Chaco and Tomas utilize music and art to deal with and express themselves. The more sophisticated designs that are witnessed in the film are likewise considered to be “excellent.” Because they are trapped in a cycle of poverty, these people can only express their individuality through the clothes they wear and the haircuts they get.

  12. Aveces la cosa se pone difícil
    En crear que nuestra familia quiere ser familia
    Por que mamá eliges al enemigo – el no te proteje – no nos quiere
    Y tanto que persigo a Jairo, no piensa en mi
    Ni Chaco – también se fue – tambien me dejo

    Ahora en pensar que mi destino es mas de lo que me presenta la vida
    Aveces las cosas se ponen difíciles
    En saber que aveces las cosas no cambian
    En creer en la esperanza
    En tener paciencia y fe

    Porque dicen que rendirse es de los cobardes
    Los que no pelean
    …Pero que nos pasa a los que peleamos pero nunca ganamos.
    No sera que rendirse es aceptar que la vida ya es muy difícil.
    Para que
    No puedes confiar en nadie.
    No tienes hogar.
    No tienes nada.

    Pero si tienes vida
    otro día más
    Día a Día
    que mas se puede hacer?
    Hay q’encontrar tu propia vida
    Y no pensar por que.
    Aqui en esta esquina
    Aqui creo mi vida.

  13. Arlene B. Tickner complements the discussion on how hip-hop describes everyday because she is someone who describes hip-hop as a way of expressing everyday life including poverty, inequality, discrimination, etc. As Arlene B. Tickner has said how hip-hop is used in everyday life, the three brothers use hip-hop as a form of representation of their own lives considering how they grew up and the way that they grew up wasn’t in the best neighborhood and as well as not being financially situated. When I think about hip-hop, I think as if someone is trying to express their lifestyle. Even if someone doesn’t have everything they want, they express, represent, and portray an image of poverty through hip-hop.
    The movie shows a representation of how one can portray themselves as. Three brothers, Tomas, Chaco and Jairo have shown and represented, portrayed an image of themselves through hip-hop culture functions of their choice of apparel and appearances mainly haircuts. Tomas and Chaco portray themselves as clean people with some street clothes on as to where Jairo, Tomas’ younger brother is a drug addict and even though he doesn’t have the looks and appearances to portray and give an image out to people and express the feelings within, he is seen using hip-hop in the film when he breakdances for Dona Maria.

  14. There are symbolic networks of hip hop throughout the film “La Playa D.C,”. We follow the life of Tomas in the film and see how he, along with his brothers, choose to handle their lives based on the hand they were dealt. The youngest brother, Jairo, fell victim to a life of drugs and was killed due to being unable to repay his debt to the gang he stole drugs from. The oldest brother, Chaco, sick of the inequality he’s faced due to the color of his skin and being in poverty all his life, is determined to start a life in a different country. Although Tomas faces inequality by getting kicked out of a nice mall with Chaco, as well as having to hide a relationship with a light-skinned girl, he’s still set on making a better life for himself in Bogota. While trying to save up money to leave the country with Chaco, he finds himself falling in love with designing haircuts. Even when he gets let go from his job at the barbershop, a perfect reason to leave to start a new life with Chaco elsewhere, he decides to stay and set up in the middle of the street to start a business as a barber. Tomas believes that staying in Bogota, despite all the shortcomings it brought him, is what will bring him happiness and is determined to share it with others in his neighborhood.

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