Contemporary Latin American Fiction

Asynchronous Blog Post on Beauty Salon


1. Read the novella Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin and the essay “Difference and Survival” by Audre Lorde.

2. Engage with both readings through ONE of these prompts

(200-word minimum; Deadline: Wednesday 3/29 before the class)


Analyzing and integrating the following quote from Audre Lorde, discuss how does the novella challenge traditional notions of beauty and gender? What commentary does it make on societal norms and expectations?

“Which differences are positive and which negative are determined for us by a society that has been already established, and so must seek to perpetuate itself, faults as well as virtues… and of course so long as the existence of human differences means one must be inferior, the recognition of those differences will be fraught with guilt and danger.” (Lorde, 174)


“To excel is considered a positive difference, and so you will be encouraged to think of yourselves as the elite. To be poor, or of Color, or female, or homosexual, or old is considered negative, and so these people are encouraged to think of themselves as surplus. Each of these imposed definitions has a place not in human growth and progress, but in human separation, for they represent the dehumanization of difference.” (Lorde, 174)

Thinking on this quote by Audre Lorde, elaborate on the narrator’s decision to transform his Beauty Salon into a mortuary. How does the narrator deal with the imposed idea of being a surplus?


“I must choose to define my difference as you must choose to define yours, to claim it and to use it as a creative before it is defined for you and used to eradicate any future, any change… the house of your difference is the longing for your greatest power and your deepest vulnerability. It is an indelible part of your life’s arsenal.” (Lorde, 176)

Using this quote by Audre Lorde as inspiration, examine how the narrator “claims” his difference as a source of creativity and vulnerability.

Beauty Salon (Part I and II)- Mario Bellatin| Self-Care Workshop

Part I

Entry Question

Do you remember your initial thoughts about the Covid 19 pandemic? How did your thinking process evolve during those first days? How does the pandemic reframe your understanding of self-care and care work in general?

Mario Bellatin is one of the most celebrated living Mexican writers. Bellatin is the author of dozens of unique novels that have won numerous international literary awards. Bellatin’s works have been translated into 21 languages.

Beauty Salon

.Mario Bellatin’s Beauty Salon (1994), translated by David Shook, is a parable (a short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a spiritual principle) about human bodies living and dying on the margins of society. The novella or short novel is invested in the possibilities of keeping dignity under circumstances of illness and social decay.

.One interpretation of Beauty Salon is that it serves as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that ravaged Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time it was published there were about 116,000 to 174,000 reported cases of AIDS in Mexico. 

.Following that interpretation, the beauty salon, now called “The Mortuary” becomes a safe haven for people infected by the disease (living with AIDS) who are rejected by mainstream society. However, the narrator never offers concrete information about the plague or communicates how it is transmitted. (Pages 17-18)

In what ways does the portrayal of the disease in Beauty Salon parallel the AIDS epidemic? How does this add to the social commentary of the novella?

.In today’s terminology the unnamed narrator could be considered a non-binary, queer person. By turning their beloved beauty salon into a hospice for victims dying of the plague, the narrator, also a sex worker, prompts readers to consider our collective attitudes toward the human body—in illness, in death, in poverty, and in opposition to dominant conceptions of gender and sexual behavior.

Pushing the Gender Binary


Self-Care Workshop

Exercise One

What does self-care mean to you?

.Finding a balance between what you need and what you want.

.Focusing on yourself, setting boundaries.

.Recharging the social battery.

.Identifying your needs and prioritizing the most important thing(s) for you.

.Doing fun things you enjoy in your job, in school, and with your family.

.Activities that help to de-stress and take your mind off of responsibilities.

.Indulging in favorite foods.

.Going for a drive, a walk, or a run to clear your mind.



How do your personal, academic, or job responsibilities impact your ability to practice self-care?

.Between work and school, there’s not much time for self-care.

.Deadlines at times restrict the possibilities of carving space and time to do self-care.

.Job and school routine numbs you.

.No financial freedom.

.Lack of privileges.

.Home life is also work life.

.Sometimes the expectations of family, friends, or romantic partners can affect your self-care.

What are some ways to overcome these challenges?

.Trying to take a day of rest.

.Understand when you need a break and allow yourself to take a break.

.Staying organized using a planner.

.Work on your time management skills.

.Indulging in a spa-day.

.Going to therapy.

.It should not be minimized to one thing.

.One should understand that “money comes and goes” but not health.

Part II

Entry Question

What is the significance of the setting in the novella? How does it contribute to the overall mood and tone of the story?

Exercise Two

.Curiously, the narrator is more concerned with describing the fish he houses in the elaborate aquariums of the salon-turned-hospice than talking about the illness. Thinking about the aquariums becomes a way for the narrator to cope with the destructive reality of the pandemic. (Pages 7, 11)

Inspired by this observation, think about activities and practices that made you feel good and recharged (even if briefly) while you were in the lockdown. Make a list of those activities and prioritize them based on how would you like to (re) engage in them.

If you prefer:

What are some self-care practices that have worked well for you in the past?

Share with a partner.


.Walking in the park or in the neighborhood.

.Reading for fun.

.Changing the diet.

.Skin care

.Resting through the day.

.Exploring new places in the city.

.Listening to music, exploring new musical genres, or going to see live music.

.Putting together and sharing a playlist.

Presentation (s)


Zaman,Mohammed Akbaruz

The Sickness and the Ill

The ill are refugees from the social institutions that purport to care for them, but with a very narrow vision of what “care” actually entails—hospitals will not allow them to die there, not with any degree of respect or dignity, at least. The narrator’s distrust of religion reflects his belief that religious institutions, too, impose upon the ill.

The ongoing AIDS crisis as context

How does the novella’s portrayal of the mysterious disease that afflicts the characters reflect the current societal response to AIDS? In what ways does the commentary on the fear, stigma, and discrimination associated with the disease continue in México and Mexican American communities?

Creative Writing Workshop

Exercise One: Speed Reporting


With three classmates report on the following questions:

.What source are you expanding?

.What character are you developing and what is the character’s background?

.What makes this character stand out from other characters in that fictional world?

.What country, city, and/or environment are you taking into consideration as a context?

.Will your story be presenting a different narrative point of view from the original source or is it a spin-off (an expansion of the plot)?

Exercise Two: Getting to know your character, stepping into their shoes


In an index card answer these questions:

.What are the character’s goals and ambitions? What do they want to achieve within their context?

.What are the character’s strengths? How do these attributes impact their decisions and interactions with other characters in the story?

.What are the character’s fears, weaknesses, and insecurities? What makes them doubt themselves?

Exercise Three: Writing a paragraph in the character’s voice


Write a paragraph for your character that present their point of view on one of the central conflicts you are developing. It could be the first paragraph you write in their voice or you can continue working on your draft. As you write your paragraphs take into consideration the following questions about their interior life, quirks, and idiosyncrasies

.What are the character’s beliefs and values? What principles do they hold dear, and how do they justify them?

.What are the character’s secrets and hidden desires? What are they hiding from others, and what do they truly want at this particular moment in your fictional narrative?

City of Clowns (Part III and IV, pages 65-133)- Daniel Alarcón


.As a result of his mourning, Chino’s subjectivity, professional commitment, and even socio-economic stability are put into question.

.Through Chino’s story, Alarcón addresses governmental corruption, (sub) urban decay, lack of economic opportunities, rural displacement, racism, and anti-blackness, and as a byproduct, general urban violence. As a whole, Lima is experiencing deteriorating circumstances and people are taking to the streets to demand social justice.

.This state of emergency points towards a national (and perhaps global) crisis, but it also lets us discover the inventive ways that people are using to survive, speak up to power, narrate their realities, and create spaces for achieving self-reliance and hope.

Unpacking the title/central concept of the story

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 this reflection and furthermore a vision of a city “organized” by clowns?

Reflecting on the images

Look and discuss the images created by Sheila Alvarado. How do 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 repressed memories

Class Presentation (s)




Group Discussions

Elaborate on Chino’s transformations into a piraña. What are his motivations to assume this personality?

Elaborate on Chino’s transformations into a clown. What are his motivations to assume this personality?

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?

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?