Contemporary Latin American Fiction

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

Asynchronous Blog Post

Instructions:

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.

OPTION ONE

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?

OPTION TWO

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

OPTION THREE

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?

OPTION FOUR

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?

12 thoughts on “Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 65-133)”

  1. Both the nickname Pirana and the guise of a street clown protect the narrator while labeling him and constraining his identity as someone he is not. The nickname Pirana came from the fact that the area the narrator lived in was heavy with crime and looting. People would swarm in and take whatever they could and leave a trail of destruction. So others nicknamed these criminals piranhas. When the narrator told his fellow classmates that he was from there. His classmates named him Pirana to label him as a criminal. However, because of his looks, no one thought he was actually dangerous. This nickname protect him from other forms of teasing and gave him a face that the other kids understood at a glance. Which caused him to be included but never accepted.

    The narrator’s guise as a clown was for the purpose of his reporting. But as he walked around the areas where he used to be judged and looked down on. He realized that he wasn’t recognized and could become someone else even if it is just for a little while. Being clown washed all of that away in exchange for completely erasing the person he was before. It was a freeing experience that he soon realized should be temporary. Even he doesn’t entirely feel ready to confront his roots at the end of the story and plans to leave afterward.

    1. When Chino disguises as a clown, I agree that it was a freeing experience for him. He found interest that he could stop being him for a moment and be something else. I think this could be a distraction from his hardships. However, of course this disguise is only temporary.
      With the nickname Pirana, I think it stems from an angry place. He said on page 19, “If they wanted to call me Pirana, then they’d better be good and fucking ready when I came in and repossessed all their treasures.” He starts to believe he is the criminal that he’s labeled as because of where he’s from. I don’t believe he enjoyed the transformation of turning into Pirana.

      1. I agree that when Chino transitioned into the persona of the clown, it was a freeing experience for him. Throughout the entire book it’s as though he carries this weight upon his shoulders. A weight that prevents him from being who he truly wants to be. Knowing who he was in his troubled past and the upstanding persona he created for himself as an adult it seemed difficult to truly decide on who he was and the role he played in society. The clown costume provided a safe space for him, a space where he could take from being who he was to being anyone he wanted to be. No one knew who he was so he could do whatever he pleased without any consequence. I also agree that although the persona of “piraña” was also quite temporary it stemmed through anger or hate. Hate towards the rich and privileged that always acted so entitled. In the example you gave “If they wanted to call me Pirana, then they’d better be good and fucking ready when I came in and repossessed all their treasures.” It shows he believed some people deserved the treatment that they got. I also believe he may not have enjoyed being the pirana but in a sense I think he did it to be closer to his father because he knew how passionate his father was about the job.

    2. I agree with some your sentiments however I disagree that these terms”piraña” and “street clown” are as you said” constraining his identity as someone he is not”. I believe Oscar assumed those personalities and grew into those roles. Yes, I do agree that the school children did call him “piraña” because he was from a part of the city that became riddled with violence, theft and robberies, however when we think about the Oscars’s many heist with his father, we start to think probably the school children where right all along. Oscar himself foreshadowed this stance when he says” That, if they wanted to call me Piraña, then they’d better be good and fucking ready when I came in and repossessed all their treasures”. We see that Oscar had already planed to potentially become a piraña , knowing that his father shares that profession. He even assumes that identity as being part of his personality when he says “Piraña concha tu madre. That’s my fucking name” . As the story goes on, we see that he indeed does become a “pirana” along side his father and their crew.

      In conjuction to being pirana, he was also a clown as he sometimes portrays himself to be a better person then his father , however he engaged in the same activities as him. He also seems to think very highly of himself by critiquing and passing judgements to his mother for living with Carmela. The problem with that is that Oscar was never emotionally available for anyone let alone his mother yet he still find a way to criticizes.

      1. I agree with the sentiments above about Chino’s complex relationship with these nicknames and social identities and his difficulty accepting them. In addition to the fact that his reluctance to be like his father contrasts with the many ways in which he follows in his fathers footsteps (both willingly and unwillingly), Chino struggles with the fact that he is consistently having his identity constructed for him instead of being able to define himself and find his own way in the world. As my classmates have said, Chino’s identity as a journalist is not enough for him to feel like he is better than his father, especially when he has to face his own abandonment of his mother. However, putting on the clown suit, while part of Chino’s research for his article, was his own choice and that choice to “try on” an identity for a while and detach allowed him a way to observe and judge others without being perceived as anything other than just a clown. It also allowed him a way to peek behind the curtain of his perceived reality and understand how the world worked outside of his own experiences.

  2. He got the name piraña based on the thieves looting the city of lima, they were called piranhas They were swift and usually worked in packs of fifteen or twenty. The nickname eventually came about after some questioning by the boys from his school While his nicknamed labelled him a dangerous, he felt emasculated by it, because he was too weak, too skinny. He was motivated when his father told him to start working, he relished the fact that he could go through his schoolmates’ houses, shaking their hand and then stealing from them. From this it seems he started to understand his father more.
    Chino’s transformation into a clown was far more relaxed, as he put on his outfit and watched himself in the mirror, he thought this would have to do. He loved the invisibility it brought him, he was a nobody and somebody at the same time. It was only the children who noticed him while the adults passed him by. It is as though he is more himself when dressed as a clown and I personally think it shows he is becoming more like his father, given that at the end he has started to lie to his mother.

  3. Sheila Alveredo represents the vision of a city “organized” by clowns through looking at where she sees this in the city. For example, looking at where clowns are found throughout the city, created this pattern that now when she sees Lima it is really a city full of clowns. Moreover, the different settings that the clowns are located shape they day to day of people and their interaction with them. Also, looking at what they signify and how they express the emotion that people have.

  4. In the story “City of Clowns”, Sheila Alvarado represented the vision of the city organized by clowns because of the way she interpreted them throughout the story as being free. Chino used to always look down on himself and be judged for what he looked like and how he was but realizing that when he was a clown, no one can depict who he was and judge him. He even saw his ex on the bus when collecting money and she never even knew it was him, he felt like he was living his life while not being there. He felt freed from his past self and judgments and even stepped away from his past judgements from his classmates, and when he ended up being a clown even his mom didn’t know who he was. He ended up following her to his house and identifying himself. He was scared for how she would react and didn’t want her to know right away. The city was based on everyone’s judgment of one another and once he realized he can just be a clown and step away from his job and the real world that he lives in, it’s like he doesn’t even exist and can move freely.

  5. Chino’s transformation to pirana starts involuntarily. He states he is from an area where people steal swiftly and greatly sort of like a piranha. He’s given the name as a joke considering people do not actually find him intimidating as a piranha. Since he cannot shake off the shame of the joke name, he fully delves into becoming a piranha and joins his father in his robberies. He uses it as a way to make himself feel manly and to get back at the kids who called him this name. Even this though can be seen as involuntary as his dad encourages him. His transformation into the clown is opposite though and voluntary. This is represented by him putting on his own makeup in the mirror, watching his transformation pass. He chooses this role for himself and likes it. He feels unseen and invisible relax him in an odd way. I also find it interesting how separate these two roles are. Many would find being a clown to be emasculating which is the complete opposite of what Oscar tried to achieve when he really became Pirana. Yet in this role, he finds the most comfort.

  6. Chino becoming both a Piraña and a clown are key notch points for his personal identity. The two personalities share a lot similar attributes, especially their genesises. For both, some sort of external source initiated the transformations: his father said he was old enough to work with him and his boss had him write a profile about clowns. He didn’t spontaneously find himself becoming a Piraña and a clown; he needed someone in charge of him to led him that ways. Both also became an escape for Chino. As a Piraña, he escaped the internal strife he had about being from Lurigancho by reclaiming the word against those who hurt him. It was part retribution and tradition, but also a way for him the leave himself and just settle for what others thought and taught him to be. As a clown, he had more of a physical escape, being a piece of the scenery that people don’t acknowledge. At one point his own mother and an ex-girlfriend both were sitting near him and neither recognized him. Lastly, and more interestingly, both a Piraña and a clown are landmark personalities of Peru. He writes about both having a spot in the streets and both representing the lives of the crowds of people Chino always walked past. The book has a lot of moments of Chino talking about Peru and Lima, but he tends to have a distant and pragmatic way of talking about his home. This is understandably considering his recent life changes and also how everyone does have complicated relationship with where they’re from at some point. Becoming a Piraña and a clown was in way him becoming more ingrained and active with his city. Instead of walking past crowds to go to work like he always did, he was now in a community that was defined by the city and its politics and also defined the city itself.

  7. My understanding of the title is meant to represent the false pretense of keeping up appearances while secretly inside things are not what they seem. The city, like clowns, dresses the part of being a better place for those seeking a better livelihood than what few options they had back home, but the city itself is in turmoil. Riots, poverty, and crime seem to be the normal in the city which one on the outside could not see. I also think the clowns represent Chino’s own difficulty in accepting things the way they are and that situations have shades of grey and are not as black and white as he makes them out to be.

    Also I really loved the use of the artwork when reading that passage in the book. The spiraling words forces the reader to begin turning the book around to better read the passage. As I turned the book to read the passage I thought it probably looked absurd if one was to pass by and look at me turning a book in circles to read a passage. In a sense it drives the point further of things being interesting when looking on the outside when in reality the truth is simple.

  8. Chino is given the nickname Pirana because he went to the high school Lurigancho. People in groups of fifteen or twenty would wreck cars and they were called Piranas. Since Chino came from this area, someone from his new school coined him with the name Pirana. This name he took and began to work with his father in other’s houses and stealing things from the homes. Chino’s transformation as a Pirana naturally happened however, I believe Chino’s transformation as a clown was his choice. It was his way of escaping. “Walking through the city, one-third of a trio of clowns, I was surprised to find how relaxed I was, and how invisible”(p 84). Chino’s transition to becoming a clown gave him a way to observe the city without being perceived other than as another clown in Lima. Most people walked by and ignored them other than a few kids pointing. When Chino says that clowns “suited [his] mood. Appropriating the absurd, embracing shame, they transformed it. Laugh at me. Humiliate me. And, when you do, I’ve won” (p 68). Chino feels shame and his transformation as a clown makes him feel that his shame turns into something else. It transforms because in the end, clowns “want” you to laugh at them and it becomes a winning.

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