Sandra Cisneros at the Texas Book Festival

If I wanted, I could write an entire blog post on Sandra Cisernos’ voice. For a 60 year-old woman who has experienced so much (I mean, she has a memoir out–you only write a memoir if you’ve lived through a few things), I assumed she would have this antique, wisdom-coated, curandera-type voice. She absolutely does not. Sitting at Central Presbyterian in Austin, listening to her speak and read as part of the Texas Book Festival, I discovered that Cisneros’ voice is filled with the same sing-song innocence as the voice in “My Lucy Friend That Smells Like Corn.” Her voice is not my grandma spouting life advice from a far-off vantage point; rather, it is a spunky youth telling me that it is okay to still have questions and it is okay to have a thin skin sometimes.


Before she began reading from her new memoir A House of My Own, she addressed the audience, saying how proud she was to be reading at such a beautiful church, humorously adding how she never imagined that she, as a woman, would be invited to stand at the pulpit. Her outfit had colorful details, with pink and orange embroidery and puff balls on the blouse, and colored beads on her wrist and neck with a yellow tassel at the end. Cisneros chose a story from her collection that described her star-struck experience of meeting Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, a moment every one in the audience and myself could relate to immediately. Hearing her recall her shyness, her embarrassment, her insecurity, and all the adoring thoughts running through her head as she waited to meet her idol, I felt relieved that she would understand my fan-girl complex later at the signing tent.

Cisneros has been writing for decades. She is arguably the most well-known Latina writer out there. Hearing her speak and read from her memoir, I realized how many different obstacles she has overcome to reach success. Even with this enormous amount of achievement, however, Cisneros makes a point to share her fears, her feelings of insecurity, and the moments where she has felt voiceless. She talked about her time in Iowa, where she says she literally didn’t speak for a year. She talked about the desperation she felt at the thought of asking her parents for money and knowing she couldn’t possibly make that phone call. She talked about how small she felt, waiting in line to meet Galeano–and I listened in wonder, thinking, “How could Sandra Cisneros ever feel small?

While Cisneros did indeed share bits of wisdom from what she has learned throughout the past few decades, what really came through was the fact that, even after achieving so much at her age and stage of career, Cisneros still doesn’t know everything. She can still feel insecure. She can still doubt herself. She can still be the nervous fan-girl waiting in line for idol. Although I expected to walk into Central Presbyterian and be the star-struck student waiting to receive sage advice from the master, instead I found a kindred spirit in a woman who doesn’t have all the answers either, and is ok with telling me that. It is this quality, I believe, that lends the youthful lilt to the voice that I couldn’t get out of my head as I took the Metrorapid back home. The voice that is not only “Loose Woman,” but also my “Lucy Friend.”


Reading Junot Díaz with Incarcerated People

I appreciate the fact that my first teaching experience as a graduate student was in a jail. Through an initiative started by the Graduate Comparative Literature Students (GRACLS) organization, I volunteered to teach a Reading World Literature course at the Travis County Correctional Complex (TCCC), a pre-trial facility (a jail where people are temporarily detained while they await sentencing) 10 miles southeast of campus in Del Valle. After undergoing a background check and attending an orientation at the complex, I was provided access for five weeks to facilitate discussions on Junot Díaz’s Drown (1996).

I participated in this program because mass incarceration directly impacts my life. I attended a high school that enforced a zero tolerance policy which channeled students from school-to-prison by criminalizing misbehavior. Living several of my adolescent years in a section-8 housing project in Southern California, I witnessed younger relatives serve terms in juvenile hall, while some adult relatives spent years in prison. Over time, after observing the racial demographics of those imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, I began to understand how mass incarceration as social control resulted in so many relatives becoming exposed in higher rates to the criminal justice system. As it turns out, teaching in jail this past month hit close to home for me. During my first week as a volunteer, a loved one was incarcerated. Suddenly, being of service to incarcerated individuals became an activity I involved myself in committedly.

After reading the list of students who signed up for my class I was humbled. Upon seeing a group of thirteen grown men garbed in tattered, soiled, black-and-white striped uniforms– my students– I immediately felt intimidated. Stereotypes of violent inmates I carry from media images and popular culture’s representation of the incarcerated actively ran through my mind. I kept calm. After inquiring why people decided to join the class on the first day, the responses ranged from those with little reading experience who wanted to engage more with literature, to those wanting to become familiar with the work of other authors. As I interacted with the students and solicited their participation, which they were eager to share, I quickly came to realize that I was among a community of people interested in discussing world history, languages and literature in relation to their own lives.

A major obstacle to teaching people in jail is recognizing their humanity. Only after this step was I able to further develop my pedagogical stance. My way of teaching literature remains student-driven and discussion-centered. I discussed basic literary concepts of narrative prose, major themes and historical context of Junot Díaz, with the class. I consistently encouraged self-reflexive reading practices with fictional narratives. The Haitian-Dominican context of migration, ethnocentrism, multilingual communities and US imperialism equipped us with several avenues of inquiry. Of course, my ability to facilitate such a course has been supported by professors whose scholarship has informed the content of my course, while my own personal experience being a pupil informs my pedagogical approach.

After having recently completed Professor Jennifer Wilks’s Danticat and Díaz course in fall 2014, which introduced me to the works of Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz, I was compelled to continue studying these writers. I chose to read Diaz’s Drown with my students in order to further explore intersectionality of race, class, gender and sexuality. As a collection of easily digestible short stories, I knew I could cover a few stories per class. I deliberately chose a book that represents Afro-latinidad, to further continue the conversations generated in Professor Jossianna Arroyo-Martínez’s Afro-latin@s course outside of the classroom.

Cognizant of the notion that, depending on a student’s learning style, some students intake information best visually, audibly and/or kinesthetically, I attempted to cater to as many students as possible with my presentation of information as well as my body language. While explaining history of Hispaniola the first day of class, I attempted to draw the Caribbean islands on a whiteboard with a marker. With little geographic accuracy, the result was a pathetic ensemble of awkwardly shaped blobs. This experience reminded me of the importance of visual aids, and humor. I came equipped to the next class with a poster-sized, high quality image of the Caribbean. In addition to this improvement, a student who wanted to see what Hispaniola looked like on the ground, suggested I bring an educational film. The rest of the students agreed. In a classroom with no internet or projectors, I had a tv and dvd player. The most immediately accessible film I could think of was the episode of Black in Latin America “Haiti and the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Despite the film’s superficial glossing of Haiti-DR race relations, I rented the video from UT’s Fine Arts Library and brought it inside the jail to play for the students. The well shot scenes and archival footage brought to life many of the histories and geographies I was attempting to describe orally.

For each student this course marked their first time learning about Hispaniola-US relations. After viewing the film, several students reacted strongly to the unjust and disproportionate amount of economic poverty Haitians endure, the US military occupation of Hispaniola, and the nuanced racial dynamics of Dominican society. With knowledge of Díaz’s opposition to the Dominican government’s anti-Haitian attitudes, I updated students on the precarious citizenship status of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have become stateless in mass expulsion procedures a.k.a. ethnic cleansing. By discussing Afro-latinidad in Díaz’s texts we examined the anti-black racism within the Latino communities, on the one hand, and challenged the US African-American English language monopoly on blackness, on the other. This influenced students’ racial perceptions regarding blackness by addressing how Latino communities have historically distanced themselves from their blackness and interrogating how people of color internalize white supremacist beauty standards that induce self hate. The figure of Yunior, the Afro-latino narrator of many stories within Drown, enabled students to discuss Black communities from several perspectives.

The social position of Díaz’s narrator Yunior as an economically impoverished inner-city Afro-Dominican immigrant youth in New Jersey enables students to offer their own personal reflections on how they relate to Drown. One student was curious about Haitian Vodou traditions. He told me: “There’s some brothers in my unit who practice that Vodou…I myself follow Christ and never really heard much good about Vodou…but they told me about their faith and it sounds good to me.” Reading Afro-latin@ literature helped this student understand the way that the US mainstream has negatively portrayed African-inspired religious traditions actively honored by diasporic communities across the globe.

In another case, while elaborating on the French colonial empire’s legacy in the Caribbean it became clear to a student of Afro-Puerto Rican descent how he came to inherit a French last name. Some students were drawn to broader themes in Drown such as the compulsive behavior of drug addicts, father abandonment, and prejudicial attitudes regarding race and national identity. The male homoerotic scene in the book led to a discussion on homophobia faced by queer communities. Although this conversation was challenging to hold amongst a several men who carry internalized machismo we discussed the gender spectrum and marginality. Meanwhile the brief scene of Yunior’s molestation opened up conversations on trauma and the authorial practice of writing silences.

Towards the end of the course, not as many people started showing up. Attendance fluctuated from about thirteen, to ten, to eight, to three. With summonses to court dates, cell blocks being on lockdown, and the overall discouraging conditions of incarceration, I did not interpret student absences as a disapproval of my class. Most of my students verbally communicated their appreciation towards me after each class. This satisfying sense of having provided a substantial educational service encouraged me to plan another class to teach next semester. In the next Reading World Literature course I facilitate, I plan to read prison literature, especially literary productions of political prisoners. With some help from my friends and mentors I plan to draft a prison literature syllabus for spring 2016.

Literatura digital. Revistas universitarias y las nuevas habilidades para escribir y publicar

La literatura digital abre en el inicio del siglo XXI un camino más para la publicación de diversos tipos de textos creativos y académicos, a la vez que altera la práctica de la escritura y la lectura. Las revistas universitarias son un buen ejemplo de esto, dando oportunidad a los jóvenes a integrarse en la conversación, practicar sus talentos y darse a conocer. En ellas se da un trabajo conjunto que involucra el diseño creativo, edición, formato, e interacción con herramientas digitales. El trabajo que hacen los editores que producen este tipo de revistas muestra un mayor nivel de involucramiento y compromiso, así como la adquisición de otras habilidades que les serán muy útiles en el momento de integrarse a un mercado productivo que demanda cada vez más. La revista EsporEspora 2 portadaa editada por estudiantes de literatura de la Universidad de las Américas Puebla ilustra lo anterior, reuniendo a escritores, artistas visuales y fotógrafos que bimestralmente publican poesía, ensayo, cuento corto y microficción con colaboraciones de distintos países.
La plataforma que utilizan es issuumisma que cuenta con más de 25 millones de documentos y más de 100 millones de visitas mensuales. Su slogan, “Reading and publishing simple, beautiful and powerful”, muestra el espíritu de las nuevas tecnologías de acercar a los productores de conocimiento y arte con el mercado de una manera eficiente. La aparición de este tipo de plataformas ha dado como consecuencia la expansión de revistas literarias digitales y el crecimiento de una generación digitalizada. Phillippe Bootz y Sandy Baldwin dicen en su libro Regards Croises, sobre la literatura digital, “cybertext” o “texto cibernético”, que tiene como resultado que el texto se mezcle con una multitud de media, incrementándose la complejidad de los “devices, reinventing an oral character as much as a practice of public presence and display” (s/p). La manera cómo se publican los textos ha ocasionado, inclusive, un cambio en la manera de citarlos, a tal grado que la Modern Language Asociation (MLA) editará próximamente su 8ava. edición que incluye los nuevos modos de citar contenido publicado en nuevas tecnologías.

Esta complejidad a la que se refieren Bootz y Baldwin, resalta el nuevo rol del autor como escritor-programador, alguien con la necesidad de comprender conceptos cómo “subir un archivo”, tamaño y peso de las imágenes, las características de los formatos digitales como PDF, Word, HTML, JPG y otros, etc., un rol que engloba mucho del antiguo trabajo creativo, y el trabajo del editor y el diseñador. El lector también ha cambiado. Ya no es uno casual y espontáneo, sino que está predeterminado por su posibilidad de acceso y habilidad con determinadas herramientas, programas, plataformas, apps, blogs, o foros como facebook. Es decir, ambos se educan en torno al objeto mediático en donde se va a publicar y se va a leer, ya sean teléfonos celulares, tabletas, computadoras portátiles o computadoras de escritorio, en donde diseño, imagen, sonido y texto se entrelazan. De ahí iniciativas como el Centro de Cultura Digital en la ciudad de México, en donde colabora la escritora Mónica Nepote, que se encarga de alfabetizar en la digitalización, poesía generativa, narrativa transmedial, y educación de usuarios lectores.

Por otro lado, la naturaleza efímera de estas publicaciones es el gran reto a combatir, en lo complicado que resulta preservar y descubrir a las revistas en la saturación de la red. Harriett E. Green en su artículo “Literature as a Network: Creative-Writing Scholarship in Literary Magazines” nos recuerda que las mismas herramientas y la red contribuyen a visibilizar los textos mediante el uso de “a metadata schema—a labelliTinacong, tagging, or coding system to improve retrieval of information, such as an index of new literary works” (219). Sin embargo, el trabajo de organización, convocatoria, edición, diseño y publicación, y la importancia que tienen para la carrera y curriculum de los estudiantes, amerita además de lo que menciona Green, un trabajo de difusión boca a boca y comentarios en otras plataformas y comunidades sociales. Las comunidades digitales de escritores, diseñadores y lectores viven ahora incrustadas en un espacio geográfico que, en el estado líquido de este mundo globalizado, poco o nada tiene que ver con las fronteras de un “mapa” físico. Y aunque México y otros países de Latinoamérica entraron más tarde a este mundo de literatura digitalizada en comparación con otros, es un hecho que cada día se incorporan más a él, aportando ediciones y textos de gran valor y creatividad.

En la idea heiddegeriana de que las tecnologías median nuestro modo de experimentar el mundo y nos llevan a comprender los significados que nos rodean, la digitalización de la literatura construye un universo colaborativo en donde cada vez son más evidentes los contrastes entre temas, estilos y diseños que los estudiantes usan actualmente, como en Espora. Para nosotros, sus lectores y sus maestros, se abre una ventana fascinante para asomarnos a este universo.


Spaces of Migrant Detention

This semester I’ve been taking a course cross-listed between Architecture and Latin American Studies called “Architectures of Migration: The Space of Texas Detention Centers.”

This is a revolutionary multimedia and multi-disciplinary class that examines incarceration in different contexts. Led by the Humanities Action Lab at the New School, we collaborate with 19 other universities nation-wide. Our work will culminate in a traveling national exhibit that will showcase issues of incarceration and detention through photographs, graphs, and a host of online multi-media. The University of Texas branch of this project is the only group focused on the physical space of migrant detention centers and how this contributes to the criminalization of migration.

Texas serves as a migration gateway and houses 33 detention centers that hold men, women, and children fleeing to the U.S. from all over the world. As migration to Europe and the U.S. fills the news, issues of xenophobia, access, space and citizenship are at our backdoor.

Since beginning this course, several things have been incredibly striking: the privatization not just of incarceration but of detention and its amplification during the Obama administration, the power of grassroots movements and activism to make changes, and the heartbreaking variety of stories of migrants and asylum seekers who have been criminalized and put in detention. These issues have been apparent in the activities I’ve been involved in with the class – mapping exercises with ex-detainees and interviews with migrants in detention centers.

Cognitive Mapping

I’ve been performing “cognitive mapping” exercises with ex-detainees at a local shelter that houses migrants and refugees seeking asylum called Casa Marianella. Located in East Austin, Casa is one of the very few alternatives to detention – offering migrants a place to stay along with English and career help to get them started in the United States.

The term “Cognitive Map” can refer to both representations of spatial knowledge as well as mental (neural) structural and processes. For this course we have been thinking of cognitive mapping as relatively structured representations of the environment that document individual people’s cognitive spatial schemes for understanding their physical surroundings. They can be drawn as diagrams, or “maps,” showing the distribution of places and locations across a 2-dimensional surface, and usually indicating relationships between them.

In our cognitive mapping exercises with Casa Marianella we have asked participants to represent their journey, marking each leg by a point and then essentially connecting the dots. We encouraged participants to represent the different parts of their journey with symbols or words that encapsulated some aspect of their time in that space.

After mapping their journey, several participants were asked to map the actual space of detention and drew renditions of their rooms in detention and other aspects that represented these spaces for them.

Although some participants are understandably more comfortable with the idea of representing themselves visually, each map helps tell the complicated global story of where these people came from, why they left, and the moment their journey was paused as they were detained. Below are a few of the many stories of formerly detained migrants who were offered shelter at Casa Marianella.

Individual Mapping Stories


Miguel is from Bogatá, Colombia where he was a successful reggaetón singer. He fled Columbia after guerrillas began persecuting his father and himself threatening kidnapping and extortion. Miguel spent time in Panamá where eventually the guerrillas followed him, causing him to flee further North. Miguel came to Mexico where he went to cross the border to the U.S. at Laredo. When he arrived at the bus station, the Zetas gang was waiting asking for codes to make sure all those attempting to cross had used a coyote or smuggler. When Miguel didn’t know the code, the Zetas attempted to kidnap him and he narrowly escaped, running to a taxi that brought him across the border. When the U.S. border patrol went to Mexico to verify Miguel’s story they found the taxi driver that had given him passage was killed by the Zetas. After spending several days in detention in Rio Grande, Miguel was put in detention at Pearsall where he stayed for four and a half months until he won his asylum case and was released. Miguel has since gone to Colorado to join one of his best friends from Colombia and begin work in construction.



Elvis is originally from Bastos, a city in Cameroon. In Cameroon, Elvis described not being accepted into society because of his sexual orientation. He was persecuted and had to flee for his life to Nigeria. In Nigeria, Elvis spent 3 weeks where he came into contact with a church group and pastor who offered to help get him out of Africa in order to seek asylum. He flew to Madrid as part of the crew of a church group and then was offered passage to Mexico. Elvis never expected to find himself in the United States, but crossed the border seeking asylum and was placed in detention for three weeks. His case is still on-going and he is currently residing at Casa Marianella in Austin.


Some Conclusions
Listening to these stories has highlighted the importance of putting a human face on immigration and publicizing the criminalization of migrants. In talking to migrants who have experienced detention the physical space, materials, and lack of resources greatly increases the effect of criminalization in their lived experience. When people I interviewed represented their experience through mapping and drawing, it helped them to talk about, contextualize, and physically represent their story and touch on some of the trauma they’ve gone through. As most detention centers in Texas are privately owned, gathering information is complicated and part of the idea of this class is simply to call attention to what is going on.

Gabo the Great

Let’s start with a pretty obvious statement: Gabriel García Márquez is a great writer. Whatever one might think about how the processes of canonization, marketing, literary criticism, archival politics and celebrity shape how we remember certain writers and artists, it would be hard to argue against the fact that Gabo had a way with words. In my opinion, the opening sentence of Cien años de soledad remains one of the best first lines in the history of literature, or at the very least one of the best first lines that I have ever read. It is a grave understatement to say that the praise he has received this week is 100% deserved.

García Márquez, it turns out, also happens to be a Great Writer™. For proof of this, one needs to look no further than the recent events organized around the inauguration of the author’s papers at UT’s Harry Ransom Center. There, García Márquez joins other Great Writers™— figures like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett— in the exclusive club for those designated as the most important contributors to an institutionalized conceptualization of the Global Humanities. All of these Great Writers™ are also great writers, but not all great writers get their papers in the HRC, a symposium in their honor, or an opening talk by Salman Rushdie.

These are the thoughts that raced around my head during Gerald Martin’s talk at the García Márquez symposium. Neat the end of his insightful and provocative talk, the literary biographer claimed that Gabo represented a different time, and that now “There are no more great writers. There is no more great literature.” The leading Gabo scholar and a staunch advocate of genetic literary criticism, Martin admitted that in the digital age, without handwritten letters or stacks of manuscripts covered in red ink, the kind of meticulous biography that helped turn García Marquez from a great writer into a Great Writer™ is in danger of extinction.

Martin stopped short of lamenting the fall of the Latin American Literary Canon, but it wouldn’t be difficult to follow his line of thought to that kind of argument. In a way, this would be a good point. The current academic environment is moving away from Great Writers™, towards marginalized literatures and non-written forms of cultural expression. At times, this anti-canonical turn causes us to forget about the amazing literary accomplishments of these iconic figures, that Great Writers™ are also great writers. Speaking from personal experience, just as I cannot deny my feelings upon reading that opening line of Cien años de soledad for the hundredth time, I also cannot ignore the emotional and physical impact of diving back into canonical texts like Rayuela and Tres tristes tigres. At the same time, events like the García Márquez symposium show that the canon is still alive and well.

While Martin mourns the death of the Great Writer™, I see the situation as more progress then loss. As much as I cherish the works of “important” writers like García Márquez, Julio Cortázar and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, out from under the fall of the canon rises a number of new voices that provoke similar feelings and deserve more scholarly attention. In just the last few months as a reader, the works of great writers like Yohamna Depestre Corcho, Salvador Plasciencia, Josefina Báez and Urayoán Noel have thrilled me as much if not more thant hose of the Greats. As we continue to bestow this well deserved honor on García Márquez, placing his bust in a literary Hall of Fame, it’s important to both recognize his incredible legacy and continue attending to new literary voices that may never make it to the HRC.

¿Quién hablará por ti?

Arnoldo Kraus, ¿Quién hablará por ti? Ciudad de México: Taurus, 2012.


La fotografía representaba, en sus inicios, el último refugio, la ausencia de la muerte, como nos los recuerda Walter Benjamin, la celebración de la memoria del ser amado. ¿Quién hablará por ti? es también un álbum de fotografías, pero un álbum de muertos. Arnoldo Kraus recoge en este libro la historia de sus padres, Helen y Moisés, judíos polacos supervivientes del Holocausto, que emigraron a México. No lo escribirá solo, pues las largas conversaciones con su madre, ya mayor, le guiarán a través de la historia de su familia.

Se trata de hacerle justicia a los muertos a través de una memoria que se esconde a veces tras el silencio, de un concepto de supervivencia que huye del de culpa. En esta reflexión surgen ciertas confrontaciones con figuras como Primo Levi para quién sobrevivir implica culpabilidad y responsabilidad. ¿Quién hablará por ti? no es solamente una dedicatoria, junto a unas flores de Moisés a Helen (“Las flores hablan por sí mismas. ¿Quién hablará por ti?”), es una vindicación ante la justicia de la memoria de “unos cadáveres que ya no pueden ni llorar”. La memoria del silencio la representa Moisés, quien morirá sin contar su historia. Helen es la palabra, pero una palabra que tiene que aferrarse a la nueva vida. Una palabra que para seguir adelante tiene que huir de la maldad. Así, resulta realmente conmovedor cuando el autor relata cómo su madre suele referirse a los nazis como alemanes “para los alemanes, la muerte era la meta“. La nueva vida es la del superviviente, idea sobre la que el autor reflexiona ampliamente, y que le resulta imposible desentrañar.

No puede sino aparecer una reflexión sobre el miedo en esta historia. Un miedo que, compartido, se hace menos miedo. Un miedo tan terrible que resulta en “un momento en el que los muertos dejan de conmover a los vivos”.  ¿Y, cómo, entonces, hacer para no odiar a los verdugos en esta historia llena de muertos y de elecciones terribles como la del abuelo de Kraus y la muerte de su hijo varón? La respuesta ante el odio es la poesía,  nos dice Kraus, quien llega a definir al odio como “antipoesía”.

El asesinato no es la única forma de ejercer la violencia. Para sobrevivir, Moisés, quien ha perdido a sus padres y a ocho de sus hermanos, ha de esconderse en el bosque. Y Helen lo hará escondida en la casa de una familia polaca y será presa de la angustia constante, de la monotonía, que nos dice Kraus, genera desesperación y locura. No será sino hasta su llegada a México, sino que encontrarán por fin la calma.

La obra de Kraus refleja la urgencia del verse a sí mismo a través de los suyos, pues construir la memoria familiar es finalmente construir también la historia propia. Es una  pregunta acerca de la responsabilidad ante la verdad, una reflexión sobre el miedo a que el silencio no amanse a la memoria sino que la convierta en cómplice del olvido.


Reseña: Los afectos de Rodrigo Hasbún

Los afectos, por Rodrigo Hasbún (Literatura Random House, 2015)

Basada en hechos reales, la novela Los afectos (Literatura Random House 2015) de Rodrigo Hasbún retrata el exilio de la familia alemana Ertl en Bolivia después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Hans, patriarca de las Ertl, fue el camarógrafo estrella de Leni Riefenstahl en la Alemania Nazi. Ya en América, él decide continuar con sus actividades cinematográficas y emprende la búsqueda del legendario reino Inca de Paitití. Esta expedición determina el inicio de la disolución familiar de los Ertl y descubre la problemática dinámica de sus relaciones hasta los convulsos años setentas.

En este contexto, Hasbún contrasta con habilidad las imágenes públicas de sus personajes con su sentir más íntimo. Para lograr estos matices, el autor construye una novela polifónica dominada por las voces de las hijas de Hans, las hermanas Heidi, Trixi y Monika. Heidi narra su aventura en búsqueda de Paitití junto con el padre, sus ayudantes y Monika. Trixi se concentra en describir la desintegración de su familia, proceso paralelo a su progresivo confinamiento personal en La Paz. Las intervenciones de Monika consisten en monólogos en torno a su vida adulta desde su matrimonio hasta su militancia. En menor medida, participan Reinhard, uno de los amantes de Monika, y, en algunos capítulos, un narrador omnisciente se apodera de la historia. La narración coral nos permite asomarnos hacia la intimidad de los miembros de la familia Ertl y observarla desde diversas aristas. Las reflexiones de los distintos narradores posibilita al lector construir a los personajes y así acceder a sus afectos más privados. Hasbún acierta al hacer éstas impresiones parciales, pues delatan la aparente desvinculación entre la vida pública y privada de sus personajes.

En ese sentido, la figura de Hans como la de un reconocido fotógrafo de carácter explorador y temerario se resume, para sus hijas, a la de un padre abandónico. La conducta aventurera del patriarca es heredada por su hija mayor Monika. Después de abandonar a su esposo, ella se hace parte del Ejército de Liberación Nacional en Bolivia y sufre el destino más trágico de los personajes. Sin embargo, Monika no se limita a una personalidad histórica. Su complejidad emocional es retratada con sobriedad al punto que se ilumina una nueva subjetividad fuera de su identidad pública de militante sanguinaria y vengadora.

La historia de la familia Erlt podría leerse a través del fracaso de sus utopías. Si en el caso del padre es el descubrimiento de Paitití; en el de Trixi y Heidi, la experiencia del amor; y en el de Monika, el triunfo de la lucha armada, la persecución de éstas quimeras solo termina distanciando a los miembros del clan. Si bien las relaciones de sangre y los recuerdos siempre permanecen, casi al final de la novela Trixi señala que “la memoria no es un lugar seguro. Ahí también las cosas se desfiguran y se pierden. Ahí también terminamos alejándonos de la gente que más amamos” (134). En el caso de los Erlt, la memoria no salva a los miembros de ésta familia. Por el contrario, rompe sus relaciones y los confina en su soledad.

En resumen, en Los afectos, Hasbún hace uso de hechos y personajes históricos y, acompañado de una prosa transparente, narra una ficción en la que se retrata la vida íntima de los Erlt, familia de extranjeros en Bolivia y extranjeros dentro de su propio clan.

La Sirga, or why new Colombian cinema rocks

57150_1921_imagen__The word “sirga” designates the rope used to bring fishing nets or boats to land. After losing her house and family when unknown armed men burn down her small town, Alicia finds her way to La Sirga, a wrecked hostel run by her uncle on Cocha Lake, located in the southern Colombian Andes, 8800 ft. above sea level. The sirga, the rope, will slowly entice Alicia into the promise of building, maintaining and preparing a lodge for tourists too scared to stray far from Colombia’s major cities. Working at the house signals the unspoken promise for a better future. Surrounded by an immense body of water, the isolated house echoes the tensions that provoked Alicia’s journey to La Cocha in the first place: a silent, anonymous war.

William Vega’s previous short-film Simiente introduced the director to the Cocha landscape, and was produced by Óscar Ruiz Navia, the director of Crab Trap (2009) and Los hongos (2014). This is not a random fact: Vega and Ruiz Navia’s films, along with Ciro Guerra’s The Wind Journeys (2009), Embrace of the Serpent (2014), and César Augusto Acevedo’s Land Shade (2014), among others, can be seen as the corpus of the latest shift in Colombian cinematic narrative. Acclaimed by critics from San Sebastián to Cannes, these prize-winning films have also benefitted from recent Colombian film industry laws. Since 2003, when the Colombian government created legislation fostering investment in the national film industry, more than 130 movies have received grants in different pre-production production and post-production phases. These awards, along with other international grants, have provided filmmakers key access to state-of-the-art technologies. As Vega himself has remarked, the arrival of new film capabilities has coincided with new narrative possibilities: in this series dedicated to contemporary Colombian cinema, we bear witness to such visual explorations.

These new films constitute a departure from previous narratives in a country where war seems to have always existed. Specifically, young Colombian filmmakers like Vega, Ruiz Navia and Guerra distanced their work from representations of drug-related urban violence that had reigned supreme in films, TV series and novels of the previous two decades. Where so-called sicaresca narratives showed noise and chaos, these directors would rather explore the silence of violent everyday life in rural and less well-known areas of Colombia. By doing so, they relocate filmic storytelling on the margins of economic and political power. Thus, the visual repertoire drastically changes: instead of watching city life, we see a giant floating rush sailing against the wind on the lake, like an annunciation. All that we hear and see is the slow pace of the silent waters, and the onset of an impending storm, even though we might not experience the storm itself. We listen to conversations that give us clues that something terrible has happened. We sense that violence is afoot, that something might happen again. Yet like the characters themselves, we are unsure of what is happening now, unsure of what shape violence will take in the present moment.


In La sirga we witness a silent water-and-fire liturgy: these two elements organize all the film’s settings, climate, sound, and human interactions. This silent liturgy is accompanied by extreme care in cinematography and editing, art and sound production. Exceedingly political yet subtle, films like La sirga are designed to immerse their audiences in the present tense, using a keen sense of rhythm, ambient sound and photography to pursue the task of showing what violent life in the margins is like. In a world where we don’t often experience things in the shape of subtle signs, these films can refresh and activate our senses. Films like La sirga might be giving us, as a Colombian film critic once said, the real news of the world.

These are the dates for the Beyond Macondo series, organized by the Austin Film Society, sponsored by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese from the University of Texas at Austin

Thu, October 15, 2015, 7:30 PM

Tue, October 20, 2015, 7:30 PM
(The Director of this film, Óscar Ruiz Navia will be present at the screening)

Thu, October 29, 2015, 7:30 PM

Decolonizing Labor and Cultural Exchanges: A Lesson in Mapudungun

A few semesters ago I read Walter Mignolo’s The Darker Side of Western Modernity. The historic part of the book is fantastic, but I am still a bit skeptical about the utopian side of his theories on decolonialization. Specifically, I ask myself if it is possible to move past capitalism and transfer into an economic system that finds a balance between monetary gain and a decreased impact on natural resources. I am very doubtful, but learning a language this summer has given me insight into what a decolonial language exchange could look like in a less capitalist economy.

Some of my academic interests include poetry written by Mapuche writers. Many of the indigenous Mapuche in Chile speak Mapudungun and in the 1980’s there was a marked increase in poetry written by a handful of Mapuche poets. Some of those poets are Elicura Chihuailaf, Graciela Huinao, Leonel Leinlaf, and Jaime Luis Huenún. I have written about Huinao and Huenún in articles that analyze the diasporic elements in their works, but I struggled as a nascent academic and as a non-Mapuche person in U.S. academia.

I constantly ask myself, what right, if any, do I have to study these poets and how can I understand their work if I do not learn the language? For this reason, I contacted a few Chilean friends that speak Mapudungun and are very active in the Mapuche community. After about a week I was able to meet up with a friend that lives outside the city. Over a hefty pot of chai tea at El bombón oriental in the Lastarria area of Santiago, my friend Andrea Salazar and I planned a language class that would benefit both of us. She would teach me Mapudungun while I, in exchange, would read a collection of Mapuche short stories she had recently edited. I was to go to her house located in the hills near Viña del mar. We would work out of a book titled Kom kim mapudunguaiñ waria mew written by Hector Mariano, a Mapuche from Curacao Ranquil and Andrea’s language instructor.

The most enjoyable part of my trip occurred on the Friday I arrived because it was on that night that I got a sense of what an egalitarian language class could be. That night as we sat at her dining table drinking maté out of a tin cup, Andrea went over the Mapudungun alphabet and explained the long violent history of the Mapuche community. For example, she told me about the work done in the last half of the nineteenth century by two missionaries, Ernesto Wilhelm de Moesbach and Félix José de Augusta, to learn and archive the Mapuche language in a book that would later be titled Gramática araucana (1903).[1] De Augusta used this book to evangelize the Mapuche communities in the southern part of Chile in the early twentieth century. My Friday night conversation with Andrea lasted for hours in part because she is a fountain of information, but also because one of my questions always led to another and on and on, until the effects of the maté wore off and my belly was full of the homemade bread her partner had made for us that night. The next morning, Andrea and I would talk about her most recent project: she edited a book with Marilén Llancaqueo in which they translated from Mapudungun to Spanish stories written by a man named Segundo Llamin. The title of the book is Segundo Llamin ñi kuyfike nütram: Las antinguas conversaciones de Segundo Llamin. Andrea wanted to share this book with me because she knows that I have access to academic circles in the United States, access that could potentially spread the word about the book. In return for giving me access to and teaching me Mapudungun, I would read her book and give her feedback, a sort of informal review. In other words, instead of paying her to teach me Mapudungun, she invited to give me instruction in the language as long as we exchanged services. We are both granting entrance to each other’s fields without, in my opinion, colonizing it.

Now, I am in no way suggesting that I am comfortable speaking about and much less for the Mapuche people. I am starting to feel invited to continue learning Mapudungun with the Mapuche community and that is a start, especially when many academics often write about ethnic and racial minorities to further their careers while calling their colleagues of color “brown” people. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by academics in our field, especially if we truly wish to decolonize our ways of learning. I invite my colleagues to question themselves on how they are giving back to the communities they are writing about because we cannot continue exploiting our sources to further our careers. It is certainly easier for us to travel to other countries with the amount of funds we are given by our universities and for this reason we need to recognize the amount of privilege that we have as academics from the United States. While I have heard some of my colleagues gripe about how expensive travel can be and how much pressure we have to travel and publish, I worry that we are not acknowledging how much privilege comes with those complaints. We can travel to Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula without first having to fill out visa applications. We are allowed into those spaces and we should start talking about and acknowledging how academics from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula do not necessarily have the same advantages we do. Perhaps an exchange of ideas and services is one of many ways to engage in the decolonization that Mignolo is suggesting, but I am still skeptical and will continue to work on respecting the labor and culture of people I am invited to write about. For now I will continue to work on Mapudungun with Andrea as long as she is willing and available.


[1] This book is still available through the extensive work done by the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile. You can find it here:

Música Clásica Latinoamericana: Algunos Pensamientos

Cada vez que se señala que un tema de investigación se relaciona directamente con música de compositores latinoamericanos, simultáneamente se deben dar una serie de explicaciones con el fin de especificar y argumentar que el concepto de música latinoamericana en sí mismo es más inclusivo que las exclusiones que a priori se cree que el concepto señala. ¿La razón? En música clásica la diversidad presente en compositores nacidos en Latinoamérica se da con mucha frecuencia, razón por la que la dificultad de encasillamiento se convierte en una reducción que tiende a dejar a varios de los grandes creadores fuera en caso de ser tomada con vehemencia. ¿Qué tan similares son Alberto Ginastera y Carlos Guastavino, ambos argentinos, que tomaron elementos de su música tradicional, pero que abrazaron visiones estéticas bastante disímiles? ¿O Roberto Falabella en Chile junto a Acario Cotapos, el “Schoenberg de Sudamérica”, quienes hicieron de la experimentación y la vanguardia elementos clave de su discurso musical? ¿O las figuras y rivalidades entre Silvestre Revueltas y Carlos Chávez en México? Por otro lado, esta versatilidad también ha estado presente en otras disciplinas artísticas. Vicente Huidobro, el gran poeta chileno de principios del siglo XX siempre se sintió más cercano a la vanguardia europea y parisina, que a otras tendencias existentes en su tiempo. No es casualidad que se dijese de él que era un poeta francés nacido en Chile, y que concentrara gran parte de sus esfuerzos en triunfar en el Paris de la primera mitad del siglo XX. O por otro lado, tenemos también el caso de la generación de escritores latinoamericanos de los años noventa que luchaban una y otra vez por sacarse la mochila del “realismo mágico” que muchos editores buscaban en sus relatos.

Latinoamérica en música de tradición escrita presenta una gran versatilidad en la que compositores, intérpretes e investigadores se han paseado por campos de estudio con una facilidad mayor a la acostumbrada en el mundo anglosajón. Por ejemplo, no es de extrañar que fueran los compositores quienes en su búsqueda y necesidad de institucionalización, fomentaron la creación de revistas de musicología especializadas, realizando ellos labores simultáneas en creación, difusión, e investigación. O más aún, muchos de ellos fueron quienes produjeron las grandes reformas educacionales de sus países, incluyendo nuevas tendencias de vanguardia en las creaciones de la segunda mitad del siglo XX. Además, la música de raíz latinoamericana frecuentemente encuentra que muchos de sus procesos composicionales y de desarrollo de forma están de una u otra manera influenciados por corrientes y estilos occidentales que se enmarcan dentro de una tradición de larga data. Justamente, esa falta de homogeneidad es quizás una de las mayores riquezas, porque la versatilidad que muchos de nuestros creadores exponen, no se encuentra con facilidad en otras latitudes. Elementos tonales, seriales, influencias de música tradicional, pueden ser encontrados en el catálogo de un solo compositor haciendo que la clasificación estilística sea poco conducente a conclusiones terminales. Por el contrario, terminan abriendo puertas, interrogantes, y, por ende, una experimentación constante.
Lo que sí se puede encontrar en Latinoamérica, es un mayor entusiasmo de los compositores por pertenecer, desarrollar, y perpetuar un discurso que confronte la realidad ejerciendo crítica y tomando posición a través de la obra. Muchos compositores han conjugado crítica social y activismo, bajo un lenguaje claramente de vanguardia, y que al mismo tiempo aborda temáticas absolutamente coyunturales a los procesos sociales que les toca vivir. En otras palabras, no son creadores que se esconden en sus aulas; son creadores que buscan ser parte de la realidad que les rodea de manera activa y militante. Muchos de ellos han integrado comités, agrupaciones de intelectuales, o han estado detrás de los grandes cambios estructurales de las instituciones. Tampoco es de extrañar frecuentes intercambios de opinión, o una mayor presencia en medios de comunicación escritos, elementos que determinan que la música y el discurso estético impliquen tomar posiciones, muchas veces con aspectos políticos y sociales, además de los puramente composicionales.


Por esta razón, muchos compositores latinoamericanos a lo largo de los años se han encargado de dar contexto a sus obras mediante títulos, explicaciones, y elementos musicales presentes en ellas. En México, Revuelta compuso “Sensemayá” basado en el famoso poema homónimo de Nicolás Guillén. En Chile, podemos encontrar obras tales como “América Insurrecta” de Fernando García. Y en Argentina, tenemos a Alberto Ginastera y su “Cantata para una América Mágica”.


Y este es quizás un elemento que nos ayuda a identificar y a caracterizar al creador latinoamericano, más allá de su obra en sí. El compositor latinoamericano históricamente, y con frecuencia, tiende a verse a sí mismo como un intelectual, donde su discurso composicional tiene repercusiones más allá de lo estético, entregando un contexto a su obra musical. Y en este proceso la combinación de estilos, escuelas e influencias, tiene un argumento potente, en la medida de que ayuden a que ese objetivo se cumpla. Y es en este punto donde podemos empezar a clarificar algunas definiciones, donde el compositor latinoamericano está presente con pensamiento posición y visión en su obra, siendo de gran complejidad separar al hombre de su creación artística.

Silvestre Revuelta – Sensemayá
Acario Cotapos – Soledad del Hombre
Gustavo Becerra – Cantata Memento
Fernando García – Raíces de la Ira
Gustavo Becerra – Concierto para Arpa y Orquesta
Carlos Guastavino – Tres Romances
Alberto Ginastera – Sonata para Cello y Piano