“Vincular el consumo con la ciudadanía requiere ensayar una reubicación del mercado en la sociedad, intentar la reconquista imaginativa de los espacios públicos, del interés por lo público. Así el consumo se mostrará como un lugar de valor cognitivo, útil para pensar y actuar significativa, renovadoramente, en la vida social” (Néstor García Canclini Consumidores y ciudadanía 71).
Since the publication of his short story “The City of Clowns” in The New Yorker in 2003, Daniel Alarcón (1977-), a Peruvian American author, journalist, and radio producer, has demonstrated his skills as a writer of multiple genres and his bilingual capabilities. He has positioned himself as a transnational whose experience as both a US American and a Peruvian provides him with a unique, bi-faceted perspective. Alarcón collaborated with the Peruvian magazine Etiqueta Negra (2002-2016), where he published many of his crónicas on wide-ranging subjects, including travel throughout the world, the disappearance of individual homes along the coast of Lima, and the growing demand by international tourists and expatriates for a slice of paradise. The fluidity of the crónica as a genre with no fixed parameters aside from the narration of non-fictional topics, sometimes autobiographical, allows socially conscious literary authors such as Daniel Alarcón to mix their art with journalistic-style reporting.
Alarcón’s crónicas about the United States in Etiqueta Negra range from a scathing critique of US style consumerism, glorified in Minnesota’s Mall of America, to celebrating the Grand Canyon’s transculturation through a wall painting found in an immigrant-owned Thai restaurant, complete with Buddhist temples and dragons. Not only do the texts seek to inform and entertain Latin American readers with tales about the culture to the North; they also offer a critical interpretation of US society. They are a self-assessment of the US American culture: its capitalist consumerism, its obsession with abundance and excess, and its transcultural and transnational nature.
All of Alarcón’s crónicas in Etiqueta Negra are translations of his original English texts, many of which have been previously published in the original language. In this article, I will use the Spanish versions as they appeared in Etiqueta Negra, so as to convey the experience of Peruvian and Latin American readers. These crónicas may be read in any culture, presuming the existence of a global culture and a curious readership that is open to receiving a text written from the United States. Alarcón’s representation of the United States as a cultural product ties into the discourse of consumption of culture in a globalized world—its accessibility, its reach, and its consequences. For Latin Americans who are becoming ever-more “Americanized”—consuming American culture as part of the McOndo generation—these crónicas do not make the decision for the reader as to what aspects of the US culture might be imbibed. Rather, the ever-cautious voice of the transnational author warns that obsession with US American culture comes at the price of accepting the frivolity of excess and illusion, however attractive these might seem, and he allows readers to view the United States as a cultural product, a text open to scrutiny and examination.
One of Alarcón’s most representative pieces on US capitalist consumerism is “¿Vamos de compras a Babel?” It appeared in Etiqueta Negra’s issue 10 (2003), and it discusses the largest shopping center in the United States, the Mall of America, which is located in Bloomingdale, Minnesota. Alarcón writes that the mall was the vision of four Canadians of Iranian heritage, whose idea was to join commerce and entertainment under one roof. The mall is just a fraction of the initial plan, with a church, police station, a university, two clinics, a post office, theme park, and five hundred stores. It is a huge attraction for US Americans as well as for foreign tourists and immigrants. The author frames the Mall of America as the best representation of a modern United States, which views consumerism as a highly valued right. While he acknowledges it as unreal, he does not dismiss it as merely that. The true meaning of the words “Piérdete,” printed on the banner that greets him upon arriving to the mall is only understood after he walks in and encounters the undiluted fantasy. He says, “Es el lenguaje de la adicción: nos reunimos cerca del Mall of America para sentir los más cálidos y confortables latidos del capitalismo. Y es tan simple derretirnos en su abrazo de abundancia” (21). The abundance and the surprise of the many options for play and indulgence is obvious. The enormity overpowers the visitor, in the same way as, according to Alarcón, the ancient European Cathedrals were constructed to provoke fear and reverence among the devoted masses. The author draws the comparison with the Tower of Babel based on the mall’s size and audacious attempt to, if not reach the heavens, at least to attempt to create an Edenic city in which everyone speaks the same language, a language that unites us all: the language of consumerism. Interestingly enough, Alarcón also tells his reader that the first mall in America, Southdale, was the vision of an Austrian Jew, Victor Gruen, who exiled himself to the US during the Nazi invasion. The covered galleries of Milan and Venice inspired Gruen, who sought to provide open spaces and passages as a defense against the urban expansion outside. Gruen saw the mall not only as a physical necessity for the community, but also as a civic, cultural, and social need. Describing Southdale, Alarcón evokes the grandiosity of the Greek square and the city centers of Medieval Europe. But soon enough, Gruen’s vision was highjacked, and a more commercial idea of malls took over. Gruen refused to be attached to this new vision, and died in Vienna.
“¿Vamos de compras a Babel?” deconstructs the trappings of US consumerism and capitalism. Even though the US is seen as a place of possibilities for outsiders—a foreign presence—in the American experiment, not everyone achieves their dream. The Canadians of Iranian heritage and Victor Gruen, an Austrian Jew, created two distinct models of the mall. Unfortunately, only one survived to become the ubiquitous type seen across the US and later used in other countries. While traditional malls are currently undergoing a reinvention, at the time when Alarcón was writing, US American style malls set the worldwide standard for public congregation centers designed for the consumption of globalized cultures, and not Gruen’s vision of oases for communal interaction. It is clear that by including the origin story of US malls—that is, Gruen’s vision—Alarcón juxtaposes the original idea of the harmonious communal space with the capitalist consumerist ploy on display in the Mall of America. He understands the warm, addictive feeling of abundance and consumerism, something his urban readers have experienced in their own cities. Yet, the title is ominous of the pride represented by the Tower of Babel, which, rather than its intended goal of bringing people closer to paradise, led to isolation. Readers and consumers are warned of the trappings of American style malls and to be cautious when entering these spaces or participating in the desire to consume—and perhaps to consume something “Made in USA,” or in other words US American culture. On the other hand, Alarcón also wants his readers to visualize the ancient European open marketplaces, destined for social interaction, and he guides them away from the closed spaces of traditional American malls, intended for self-indulgence.
Many cultural critics have been highly critical of globalization and US style capitalism and consumerism that have taken over developing economies, exploiting their markets and corrupting their cultures. This has led to a field of study—called, aptly, Globalization Studies—that examines the effects of this growing international phenomenon. On the other hand, globalization has also created and opened up many transnational transactions, with this being owed in large part to technological advances in communications. In his book Global Matters, Paul Jay disagrees with critics who see US capitalism and globalization as a US takeover of cultures, a neo-colonization of sorts (26-7). In the first place, he claims, globalization is not just a contemporary phenomenon: it has always existed. Secondly, he points out that globalization is not just about economic exchanges, but cultural ones, as well: “One of the central points of globalization studies in the humanities is that cultural forms (literary narrative, cinema, television, live performances, etc.) are commodities, a position that counters older notions of the literary as purely aesthetic and somehow beyond the world of commodities, economies, and even history” (55). Jay does admit that, due to technological advancements, globalization as we know it in contemporary times is different than it was in the past. Susan Stanford Friedman—who belongs to the same school of thought as Jay—says:
For others, including me, globalization is not a new phenomenon, although the naming of it is new, indicating heightened awareness of what has been there all along. . . . What is different is the particular form that globalization began to take by the end of the twentieth century: a highly accelerated form of the global ecumene in which technologies of travel, information, media, exchange, and violence have intensified the patterns, mechanisms, and degrees of interconnectedness. (261)
According to Jay, globalization is not always unilateral and passive. He is however careful to point out that the impact of cultural transference is different depending upon the socio-economic status of the consumer (69). In a discussion of Arjun Appadurai’s theory of “culturalism” and Kawame Anthony Appiah’s “cosmopolitanism,” Jay agrees with the two theorists’ claims that there is no such thing as an authentic culture, which can be contaminated, “because cultural forms and practices often deemed to be authentic are in fact the product of contamination” (61). Jay goes on to quote Appiah’s many examples of cultural contamination, including what is considered authentic and traditional Western African cloths known as java prints, which are nothing but “contamination.” They are prints, based on the batik patterns from Indonesia. The Dutch introduced and sold Javanese batiks to Africa, and often milled them. (61). Despite certain differences with Appadurai and Appiah’s ideas, Jay agrees with them by saying:
. . . globalization cannot be reduced to Westernization or Americanization, and that the dynamics of reception and appropriation within globalization have a complexity that belies such simple labels. Theories of cultural change under the pressures of globalization (keeping in mind that cultural forms are economic commodities and that cultural systems work like economies) have to be complex enough to acknowledge how local cultures are transformed by the products and styles of the West and how those cultures appropriate Western materials in a way that transforms both those products and styles and the cultures from which they come. (65)
Marketing cultural products—and hence culture itself—is very much a part of capitalism. Without it, there is no consumption of culture. Within the context of contemporary globalization and consumption of US products, including its culture, Hollywood films are among the United States’ most widely and internationally distributed cultural products. The allure of Hollywood, and as an extension Los Angeles, depends on the creation of an illusionary world manufactured by a slew of artists and technicians. For Hollywood to survive, it must produce enticing movies and create a clientele primed for repetitive consumption of its products. Many film productions rely on thrilling story lines and famous actors to do so, and thus it in not uncommon to see actors promoted as stars with carefully curated images. Fans are drawn to these fabricated facades.
Etiqueta Negra’s issue 26, “3, 2, 1 Acción” from 2005 is dedicated to films, and four of its ten texts are devoted to Hollywood. One of them is Alarcón’s crónica “Hollywood te enseña a robar.” It is about convicted ex-bank robber Joe Loya from California, who robbed forty banks over a fourteen-month span, before being caught in 1990. Alarcón writes that at the time he met Loya, he was reformed, married, a taxpayer, a writer, and an actor aspiring to break into Hollywood. He adds that Joe Loya’s reasons for choosing life of crime, were not because he was a drug addict in need of quick money, or an aggressive man involved in a life of violence. He took to robbing banks because he was driven by the adrenaline rush, and he considers himself still in rehabilitation. His inspiration, as for many other robbers, were Hollywood films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Getaway (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Point Break (1991), Killing Zöe (1994), and Heat (1996), which provide a detailed study guide for learning how to walk, talk, and get away with a perfect heist. Joe Loya in no way condones his crime, for which he spent time in jail, nor does he blame Hollywood for creating bank robbers. He admits that at some point, all bank robbers are caught or killed. However, Alarcón notes that Hollywood has produced an image of suave bank robbers, portrayed by fashionable and good-looking men and women who plot impossible heists, and has celebrated them with a perfect getaway to a luxurious life. If no one is killed, and if the bank robber has Robin Hood tendencies, they become even more acceptable. Moreover, since money in banks is usually insured, the banks never lose, making it easy to turn them into the “bad-guy.” Loya tells Alarcón that he was amazed how people, especially women, were fascinated to learn of his former profession, “Cuando se enteraban . . . era increíble como todas se sentían de inmediato atraídas hacia mí como nunca antes. Caían fácil seducidas por mi onda’. Ellas ni siquiera necesitaban verlo, bastaba que supieran que había robado bancos que se fascinaran” (56).
According to Alarcón, bank robbery is perhaps the most admired crime in the United States, and throughout the world, especially when no one dies. Prior to paper money, banks held gold and coins, which were rather heavy to carry. After the English colonized America, paper money appeared, and it made the crime easier—or rather, lighter—to carry out. Americans invented the bank robbery and Hollywood sold the idea of the most admired crime to the world (56). By providing the historical background for bank robberies as we know them today, and their commercialization—packaging and sale— by Hollywood, Alarcón provides insight into our conscience. Before we consume Hollywood movies about bank heists, and perhaps even other types of theft involving art and artefacts, such as those depicted in The Thomas Crown Affair, Indiana Jones or the Ocean’s Eleven series, we need remain conscious of the fact that what we are viewing is unlawful, dishonest behavior and that the mere fact of having good-looking people portraying thieves on the big screen does not make it right. Streaming platform Netflix’s recent international blockbuster from Spain, La casa de papel (2017-2021), and its Korean spin-off, Money Heist: Korea (2022) illustrate the continuing popularity of bank heists as cultural products. However exhilarating it may appear, most bank robbers are finally caught.
On the one hand, Joe Loya’s profile is a study of human behavior, while on the other, it is a commentary on Hollywood’s impact on the cultural imaginary—and in this case, the imaginary of crime, not only in the United States, but globally. However, instead of focusing on Loya’s life as a suave criminal—who could seduce women simply by introducing himself as a former bank robber, conjuring up the image portrayed in Hollywood films as he sat on a sun-drenched beach drinking fruity cocktails—Alarcón presents the other side of the ex-convict: one who is trying to re-create himself in the real Los Angeles, thus undoing the fictionalized Hollywood narrative.
And once more, in “El superhéroe farsante” in issue 95 of April 2011, entitled “¿Quieres pelear conmigo?” Alarcón reinforces the illusionary world of Hollywood/Los Angeles. This crónica is about the inaugural event of a crypto-gothic fight club called the Foam Weapon League (FWL) in Los Angeles’s South Central neighborhood. FWL, like the World Wrestling Federation or the WWF, attracts actors and models obsessed with comics and fantasy fiction, who take on personas from the fantasy world: “Eran hombres que habían leído libros de cómics y quizás hasta los habían estudiado. Mujeres que habían pasado horas frente a computadoras en la época en que las pantallas monocromáticas mostraban sólo texto y un cursor que parpadeaba como un corazón latiente” (82). The inaugural event of the fight club was filmed in the hope that it would be picked up by a TV channel, just as was Gladiators, a wrestling show. According to Alarcón, the whole set up, from the fake personas, fake blood, fake weapons, and fake fighting, is representative of Los Angeles and is a continuation of the illusionary microcosm known as Hollywood. The participants are obsessed with the characters they aspire to play, and the computer games serve as a hypnotic portal to imaginary realms.
According to the FWL’s current website, “The Foam Weapon League (FWL) combines the athletic skill and showmanship of combat sports with the epic storytelling and world-building of live action role playing (LARPing).”  The site promotes FWL with a video where “fighters” dressed as gladiators, Lucha libre wrestlers and video-game characters fight one other with weapons with foam-covered edges, instead of their fists, with the objective of bursting bags of fake blood strapped to the person’s body. The FWL’s slogan is “Fake Blood. Real Fighting.” FWL brings together violent video games and “Fight Club” style combat played collectively in real life (IRL). Video games are often disparaged for creating anti-social generations of children and adults who hide behind fantastical characters, fighting simulated brutal war-like scenarios instead of socializing with real people in real life. Ironically, even though FWL offers real life interactions, the “fighters” socialize not as their real selves—rather, they continue to project their fake identities.
For Alarcón, the real Los Angeles is so large, confusing, and surrealistic that it is impossible to truly know the city: only a certain version of it that exists in the popular imaginary. This version is created and kept alive primarily by tourists, who take pictures with their favorite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or try to capture some actress trying on overpriced shoes in a shop on Rodeo Drive. Alarcón writes, “Estas atracciones son fantasías colectivas y, como toda expresión de fe, bellos espejismos que se hacen más patéticos porque rezarle a una estrella aún no ha producido un solo milagro documentado en toda la historia del cine” (76). FWL is part of the “collective fantasy,” just another type of LARPing, and it is very much part of the illusionary world created by Hollywood. Many cities and pseudo-cities, such as Disneyland, market themselves to attract tourists and boost their economies. Similarly, Los Angeles’s—and to an extent, California’s—economies are based on promoting and peddling the city as a fantasy. Tourists yearn to be part of—borrowing Benedict Anderson’s term—an “imagined community.” Even when actors try to live their normal lives, mesmerized tourists see them only as the idolized heroes they play on films. For Alarcón, Los Angeles is “la ciudad que siempre se disfraza de sí misma” (“El heroe farsante” 75). Hollywood’s illusionary characteristic is further enhanced by its tendency towards excess, where that portrayed is taken to the extreme limits of reality. It is not merely fake or fictional: its intent is to inspire awe, fear, and to some extent, repulsion. Be it the impossible heists by the attractive, charming people in movies, or the blood and gore of the fights, the idea of excess is continually reiterated to draw the audience into the world of the imagined Hollywood, i.e., Los Angeles.
An important facet of US capitalist consumerism, mentioned in “¿Vamos de compras a Babel?” is that of abundance, which is tied to a behavior of excessive consumption. Alarcón reiterates this in the following two crónicas: “La disciplina del glotón” and “La religión del derroche.” The former appeared in issue 30, titled “Es hora de comer,” and the latter in issue 41, titled “Negocios son negocios.” “La disciplina del glotón” draws attention to “Globesity,” a term used by public health specialists to define the pandemic of global obesity, a global phenomenon of eating not for the purpose of nourishing the body, but for entertainment and competition. Alarcón writes that there are 400 registered members of the International Federation of Competitive Eaters in New York, which promotes the idea of eating even if it is lethal. Most of its members are trim, but the interest in such a sport only highlights the US obsession with eating to excess when there are parts of the world that do not even have access to a basic meal. This sport has a global reach, and contestants from different parts of the world take part in eating competitions, with winners earning large sums of money. The description of one particular eating competition is intended to create revulsion in the reader’s mind, as if the author-narrator were describing a violent fight: “Las cosas vuelven realmente desagradables: la comida vuela con furia por la cara . . . . El maestro de ceremonias reprende al comensal más lento, mientras que el más rápido trabaja despedazando la comida, mojándola en agua para que se deslice con más facilidad por la garganta, masticando rápidamente tragando con violencia” (82). Alarcón sees these competitions as simply a reflection of the US culture, which wants us to believe that one should be “compitiendo por consumir todo lo que pueda, por diversión y con fines de lucro, con la seguridad de que será vanagloriado por su apetito” (82). The consumption of food is represented as a ferocious act, almost torturous, and in this competition the contenders subject themselves to this torture through an activity believed to be a necessity of life, merely for fame and glory. The contestants participating in the competition, and those enabling it by organizing and broadcasting it, and forming part of the audience, seem to disregard the element of exhibitionism, because for some in the US, food is available in abundance, and thus can be used as a prop in a competition.
Obesity, caused by cheap and mass-produced food that is largely bereft of healthy nutrients, is a leading cost of global health issues. According to the World Health Organization:
Once considered a problem only in high-income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries.
It is one thing to not be able to afford a balanced diet, another when these foods are advertised and consumed as a symbol of abundance and fame, and as an emblem of US Culture. Fast food companies, such as McDonalds and KFC, are available internationally and are an easy form of accessing US American culture, even though the food itself is locally sourced and adapted to regional tastes and requirements. As Alarcón points out, participants in the popular Nathan’s Hot Dog competitions are slender, an image that is rarely associated with fast food. This can mislead fast food consumers and prevent them from seeing the downsides of these foods. Instead of simply critiquing eating competitions—which generally focus exclusively on fast food—Alarcón paints a repulsive image, perhaps nauseating enough to keep his readers away, or at least mindful of extreme behavior. He compares it, as suggested in the title, to gluttony—one of the seven deadly sins.
In “La religión del derroche,” Alarcón continues with the motif of abundance and excess. In this short piece, Alarcón writes about celebrities such as Stanley Burrell, aka MC Hammer, the rapper of “U Can’t Touch This” fame. He says that Burrell earned so much money that he had no idea how to spend it, and soon ended up bankrupt. The grotesque and the element of shock is stressed in Alarcón’s depiction of how quickly Burrell blew through all the money he had earned. Alarcón says:
Desde luego, en la cultura estadounidense no hay nada más apreciado ni sagrado que ser derrochador, y estos burdos ejemplos de autodestrucción pueden ser vistos como versiones modernas de sacrificio religioso: los dioses ya no exigen animales ni incienso. En estos tiempos, su incontrolable apetito solo puede ser aplacado con el despilfarro; sus protagonistas se han convertido en héroes populares de la actualidad estadounidense. (96)
With his newfound wealth, Burrell wealth bought a mansion to accommodate not just himself, but his old friends as well. He spent money on extravagant items to decorate his home and acquired expensive tastes in luxury cars and racehorses. These are some of the examples of his excessive behavior reflect on Burrell’s attempt to consume and acquire a life of affluence, which he never had access to before. He continued until he owed more than fourteen million dollars. Burrell, according to Alarcón, is not alone. One repeatedly hears of athletes and musician who behave similarly. Alarcón sees this as an American disease: seeking not only live well but to live notoriously, until one loses everything trying to keep up with the Joneses. He writes, “Ser derrochador—de manera premeditada, militante, extravagante—es el último y más importante sacramento de la religión capitalista, un proyecto al que vale la pena consagrar la propia vida, por el que vale la pena morir” (96). Alarcón implies that extreme consumption promotes hedonism. The “unalienable Right” of the United States of America—the Pursuit of Happiness— has been distorted into a pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence. US consumerism promotes the idea that more and bigger is better. As idols, Burrell and many other athletes, actors, and musicians, are examples to their followers of what it is to live a life of abundance and excess, filled with sensual pleasures even in the face of clear evidence of damaging consequences. As in the other, previously mentioned crónicas, Alarcón illustrates the issue of extravagance as part of US culture and consequently, as part of the US capitalist agenda. Extreme behavior—be it excessive fantasizing, eating, or spending to the point of squandering, just because one can—does not always lead to the ideal outcomes.
Alarcón does not deny the sensation of a satiated palate and stomach, the warm and tingly feeling of retail therapy, or the seduction of affluence and wealth, especially when endorsed by rich and famous people. The author is aware of the inevitability of globalization, but also cautious of the repercussions of US capitalism and consumerism. Instead of simply moralizing about the negative consequences, the crónicas describe opposing emotions that may be evoked in the face of the acts of self-gratification. There is an expectation that readers will be repelled by the strange conduct and see it as a direct result of US-style capitalism and consumerism. This provokes a question: does Alarcón reach his intended readers? To answer this question, I explore the following three aspects of his writing—the genre of (Nueva) crónica, the magazine Etiqueta Negra, and finally the readers of the McOndo generation.
Nueva crónica—often simply known as crónica—has become tremendously popular in Latin America, and growing academic interest over the past few decades has placed this hybrid form in the spotlight. Much of the recent research focuses on contemporary Mexican crónica by critics such as Anadeli Bencomo, Linda Egan, Ignacio Corona and Beth Jörgensen. In her case study of Mexican and Ecuadorian urban crónicas, Esperança Bielsa provides a theoretical background of Latin American cities and their literary production. Viviane Mahieux looks at urban cronistas of the 1920s and 30s, while Susan Rotker, Aníbal González, and Julio Ramos studyat the Latin American Modernist crónica, which has the most affinity with the contemporary practice of this form.
According to Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez, the origins of the contemporary Latin American crónica lie with José Martí, the Cuban revolutionary leader, who, while in exile in New York in the 1880s, wrote for the Venezuelan newspaper La Opinión Nacional and Argentina’s La Nación (98). Other modernist writers—for example Julián del Casal, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, and Rubén Darío—also wrote crónicas for newspapers as means of earning a living, something their work fiction writing did not always provide. The crónica genre has been present in Latin American culture since the time of European explorations. However, contemporary crónica has reached a new level of international acclaim, particularly due to cronistas such as the Mexicans Carlos Monsiváis and Elena Poniatowska. The contemporary crónica is distant in form and content from the early ethno-historiographical accounts of explorers and conquistadores. However, some believe that New Journalism, which evolved in the United States in the 60s and 70s, and is now called by its more academic name, the “literary essay,” inspired the contemporary form of the Latin American crónica. Many studying the post-1968 Mexican crónicas of, for example, Elena Poniatowska and Carlos Monsiváis, have referenced the influence of US American New Journalism. In spite of the literary borrowing, it seems evident that both traditions have their origins in their own historical moments, and that the US American form influenced the Latin American genre. In her book on Carlos Monsiváis, the most influential Mexican literary journalist of the 20th century, Linda Egan points to his open dialogue with the North American New Journalists Tom Woolfe and Norman Mailer from as early on as Días de guardar (x) written in the 1970s. Furthermore, in his anthology A ustedes les consta, first published in 1980, Monsiváis provides a detailed history of the origins and development of the Latin American crónica. As for what is a crónica, it remains undefined. Boris Muñoz in 2003 writes:
Aunque hay esfuerzos notables, creo que hasta ahora no se ha logrado fijar la definición contemporánea de crónica, ni tampoco trazar el mapa de sus límites. Dada la multiplicidad de tópicos que aborda, los estilos fuertemente personales que la caracterizan, a lo máximo que se ha llegado es establecer parentescos que la avecinan en mayor o menor grado al periodismo o la literatura. (1)
The hybrid nature of the genre—the writing of real-life events, places, or people within the framework of literary aestheticism—has attracted both journalists and more predominantly, fiction writers. Some fiction writers, most famously Gabriel García Márquez—who dedicated a substantial amount of his time to the cultivation of this genre and its young practitioners with his Fundación para el Nuevo Periodismo Iberoaméricano (FNPI)—switched between genres to best suit the narrative being told. On the other hand, some have chosen crónica as their preferred medium. Elena Poniatowska's “How I Started Writing Chronicles and Why I Never Stopped” talks about this choice:
Time moves on, and every day I put aside my novel until tomorrow. To say “no” is impossible for me. Nevertheless I know that come what may, the contact with so many men, women, and children, the chronicle of their hours and their days, the life in the street and the popular neighborhoods, the witnessing of tragedies such as that of October 2 and those of September 19 and 20 nourish that invisible novel and silently enrich it. I am who I am because of the thousand voices that I have listened to. I am formed out of the many installments inscribed by those who have entrusted me with their stories. (45)
However, not all choose to write crónica as their preferred form. Like many of the Latin American modernist writers who wrote crónicas out of economic need, many contemporary writers who would prefer to write fiction this form for a very similar reason. Gabriela Esquivada surveyed the participants of the first “Premio Seix Barral/FNPI (2006).” This prestigious prize is given to a budding cronista and includes a substantial financial award. The prize money is to allow the writer to develop the short piece submitted for the competition into a full-length monograph. The majority of the participants listed finanacial support as their primary motive for applying for this award: “En su mayoría, los entrevistados se presentaron al concurso Seix Barral/FNPI porque ofrece recursos con los cuales obtener el tiempo que no hallan en su trabajo en medios para investigar y escribir: la posibilidad de completar la disposición que se trunca en sus vidas cotidianas” (121).
The crónica is an essential part of many Latin American contemporary cultural magazines, including Malpensante (1997-, Colombia), Gatopardo (2000-, Mexico), La vida de nos (2017-, Venezuela). The Peruvian magazine Etiqueta Negra (2002-2016), created by Julio Villanueva Chang and modeled on The New Yorker, presented an international array of literary essays, fiction, and other pieces written by authors, artists, journalists, and scientists from all over the Spanish-speaking world and beyond, including Russia, Finland, Italy, and of course, the United States. Julio Villanueva Chang and his team of internationally based associate editors were able to attract high quality crónicas from various parts of the world, and it provided a space for many budding cronistas, alongside well-established ones. Daniel Alarcón was introduced to the Peruvian literary world by Villanueva Chang himself, and following this introduction, Alarcón contributed to the magazine as an associate editor and contributor. Alarcón has published long-form essays in both North American and Latin American periodicals, along with European publications, and he is familiar with both of the American traditions. The Latin American crónica, acculturated by the northern form, seems serendipitously appropriate in the case of Alarcón’s contribution to Etiqueta Negra’s objectives. It is a familiar format used to opine, discuss, and critique cultural and social issues. Furthermore, Alarcón’s own commitment to this genre and his love for the radio were merged in June 2012, when he started a podcast, Radio Ambulante, with the intention to “llevar la estética de la buena crónica de prensa escrita a la radio.” It is the first program of its kind in Spanish (RadioAmbulante.org), and it is now distributed by National Public Radio (NPR). In an interview with me, he indicated that he always wanted to create a radio program in the style of This American Life by Ira Glass—known for presenting relatable stories of everyday folks while remaining within the realm of journalism. Radio Ambulante brings the crónica genre to the radio/podcast format and features contributors from all over the Spanish speaking world.
In print, Etiqueta Negra was primarily circulated in Peru and in some Latin American countries, and had an international reach through its digital outlets. Unfortunately, producing a high-quality literary magazine comes with a price: at the cost of 25 Nuevo Soles, around $10, it reached only a select audience, who were mainly urban, literate, and middle to upper class with disposable income. Etiqueta Negra’s attractive, glossy pages contained various advertisements aimed at this audience, which was of course an economic necessity in order for the magazine to survive. Alarcón’s crónicas reached only a small cross-section of Latin American society—the educated and affluent class—which is also the target consumer group for many products associated with US style affluence and excess. This consumer group is known as the McOndo generation, named after the 1996 Latin American anthology titled McOndo, edited by Alberto Fuguet and Sergio Gómez.
Hollywood films, malls, fast food, and the celebrity lifestyle are no longer a privilege of only a few. They are available in abundance all over the world, including in Latin America. Many US style products may even use local materials, thus adapting to the local markets while still carrying the USA branding. Alarcón’s content and critical tone lead us towards a larger debate of the way in which the world consumes US products and along with it, its culture as part of a globalized world. In his Consumidores y ciudadanos, Néstor Canclini defines consumption as “el conjunto de procesos socioculturales en que se realizan la apropiación y los usos de los productos” (58-9). He argues that the concept of “lo propio” and “lo ajeno” means little in a globalized world. In the nationalistic context of the 19th and the 20th centuries, consuming national products was part of national identity. Imported goods, which were more expensive than local products, were only for a privileged few. But now, "Esta oposición esquemática, dualista, entre lo propio y lo ajeno, no parece guardar mucho sentido cuando compramos un coche Ford, montado en España, con vidrios hechos en Canadá, carburador italiano . . . " (31). He goes on to give examples of cultural products assembled in this globalized fashion, resulting in a reality where “los objetos pierden la relación de fidelidad con los territorios originarios. La cultura es un proceso de ensamblado multinacional, una articulación flexible de partes, un montaje de rasgos que cualquier ciudadano de cualquier país, religión o ideología puede leer y usar” (32). On one hand, Canclini's idea suggests secularization and equal access to products that were once available to just a few, such as literature and the written word, which changed with the Gutenberg printing press (38). He also warns that though many more people can access these globalized products, they remain out of reach for many others. In addition, very few people have the information to make the best choices as to what they consume, especially when huge colorful billboard advertisements, catchy TV commercials, and glitzy magazine layouts are the only source of information espousing the “benefits” of the products and the lifestyle on display (57).
The United States’ presence in the Latin American, and thus in Peruvian imaginary, is not a novel concept that has come about in a globalized world. The US has long had a strong presence in Latin America, with intimate economic and imperialistic interests, as can be seen with events such as the Spanish-American War of 1898, which led to US control of Puerto Rico, assimilating it as a territory, as well as in Cuba, which was heavily influenced by the US until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. There are numerous other examples of political intervention and economic interdependence throughout the region. The United States has also formed part of the Latin American cultural imaginary. In the prologue to their transnational anthology Se habla español: Voces latinas en USA (2000), contemporary writers Edmundo Paz Soldán (a Bolivian born author and professor at Cornell University) and Alberto Fuguet (a Chilean born author, film critic and film-maker raised in California and living in Chile) mention the continuing fascination for the United States in Latin American letters (13-22). Soldán and Fuguet themselves draw inspiration for their anthology from José Martí and his late 19th century essays about the United States, which were written during his exile in New York and compiled as the collection Escenas norteamericanas. They write:
La idea de la antología era plasmar la colonia (el perfume, digamos) de los tiempos. Escribir cuentos, o textos, que, de una u otra manera, captaran el zeitgeist actual. Sign o’ the Times, en las palabras de Prince. Una colección que oliera a French fries, buttered popcorn and Sloppy Joes pero también a burritos, productos Goya, smoothies de mango-guayaba y Häagen-Dazs de dulce de leche. (15)
Speaking to Newsweek in 2002, Alberto Fuguet—who came to prominence with the anthology McOndo (1996)—defines McOndo generation as “a blend of McDonald’s, Macintosh computers and condos” ("Is Magical Realism Dead). Contemporary authors of this generation wish to avoid association with Magical Realism as the sole school of Latin American literary aesthetic. McOndo authors were first dismissed, especially by the left, as “shallow and flippant” and “as an apology for Yuppie alienation” respectively. They were writing about the changing demographics of Latin America—the urban and contemporary, exposed to the effects of globalization (“Is Magical Realism Dead”).
In an interview with me, Alarcón stated that, while his work is not aimed solely at a Latin American audience but he does make sure that the reader is not lost with specific cultural references—a trend common among many McOndo authors, who too seek to reach beyond national borders. In his discussion of “Consumers and Citizenship” Néstor Canclini discusses how films and TV programming are now directed to a wider, multicultural audience, simply because of economic reasons and expansion: “Las referencias nacionales y los estilos locales se disuelven en películas, cuadros y series televisivas que cada vez se parecen más en Sao Paulo y Tokio, Nueva York y México, París y Buenos Aires” (102). Alarcón too, is aware that he does not write just for a US based audience; rather, his intent is to reach an international audience, especially those who consume US culture. As for Alarcón’s and Etiqueta Negra’s readers, since they belong to the McOndo generation, consciously or unconsciously consuming US culture and products, curiosity about the United States is a given. The readers are urban, contemporary, and digitally savvy, and
exposed to all that is US American. Juxtaposed in Etiqueta Negra’s sleek pages, Alarcón’s texts become part of what Canclini has called for in an effort to genuinely secularize globalization by adding personal observations to aid in better informing the intended consumer, to the point where they may even refuse the temptation to buy into the culture of excess. Thus, in Canclini‘s words, Alacrón’s writings thus transform into "información multidireccional y confiable acerca de la calidad de los productos, con control efectivamente ejercido por parte de los consumidores y capacidad de refutar las pretensiones y seducciones de la propaganda (68). Alarcón’s voice is thus directed to a crónica-reading McOndo urbanite, perhaps affluent enough to spend money on consumer products, who will weigh the pros and cons, once informed. On one hand, Alarcón reaches his ideal readers, but parallel to that, yet another question remains—does the McOndo generation reader see a US based author, even though born in Peru, as a reliable voice to steer them through the ills of US style capitalism and consumerism, given the US imperialist history in Latin America, and US Americans’ position of assumed privilege? The answer to this query lies in Alarcón’s own positionality as an author and journalist.
As stated earlier, Etiqueta Negra’s intention was to present its readers with texts from a wide range of international authors and journalists. As such, the addition of Daniel Alarcón as an associate editor and a contributing author from the United States was nothing out of the ordinary. However, Alarcón’s literary career provides enough evidence of his transnationality and his commitment to Peru—its history, politics, and culture. He is not a transnational author and journalist simply because he was born in Peru and raised in the United States. As a fiction writer, Alarcón has produced two collections of short stories, two novels, one novella, and various non-fictional pieces scattered between the U.S. and Latin American literary/cultural magazines. Many of these texts are centered in Peru, including his first published story in The New Yorker, “The City of Clowns.” Most of Alarcón’s fiction has been translated into Spanish. His first short-story collection is titled War by Candlelight, which has been translated twice into Spanish, published once in 2005 in the United States as Guerra en la penumbra and again in Peru in 2006 as Guerra en la luz de las velas. His second collection of short stories, El rey siempre está por encima del pueblo (2009, 2010) is an anthology of his stories translated into Spanish. The original English stories have appeared individually in numerous publications and later as a collection in The King is Always Above the People (2017.) It includes many of the stories appearing in the earlier Spanish collection of the same name, but it contains other stories as well. His two novels are The Lost City Radio (2007) and At Night We Walk in Circles (2013). The former appeared simultaneously in the United States in English and in Peru in Spanish as Radio ciudad perdida. His latter novel was published in 2014 as De noche andamos en círculos. His novella Provincianos (2013), published in Spanish, is the translation of his original story “The Provincials,” previously published in the literary magazine Granta in 2012.
It is important to note that Alarcón does not name Peru or Lima as the location in many of his narratives, even though it is commonly recognized that much of his inspiration is drawn from Peruvian history and locales. Alarcón himself talks about the presence of Lima in his essay “Imagined City.” He writes about how the map of Lima was always in front of him while he worked on his novel Lost City Radio, in which all the names of the neighborhoods were changed. Much of his non-fictional work has also been about Peru. Some of the essays have appeared in US magazines—such as his articles “Let’s Go, Country: The New Latin Left Comes to Peru” and “All Politics is Local: Election Night in Peru’s Largest Prison” for Harper’s Magazine. Other essays targeted an audience of Latin American readers—such as “Viaje a la semilla de la piratería en el país donde todo—todo todo todo—puede ser falsificado” published in Etiqueta Negra. Many of the stories in Alarcón’s first book, War by Candlelight, evolved out of his experience living in the slums of Lima as a Fulbright scholar teaching photography to the kids of San Juan de Lurigancho, a poor neighborhood of Lima, while doing research for his novel Lost City Radio. The novel is about Peru’s internal conflict in the late 1980’s, between the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, and the government. Alarcón’s next novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, draws on his knowledge of Lima’s prisons, where he has worked closely with inmate populations, offering literary workshops. In a personal interview with me, Carlos Álvarez, the director of the NGO Asociación Dignidad Humana y Solidaridad—an organization that works with prisoners to rehabilitate and train them and provide a source of income—, recounts Alarcón’s impact on the prisoners and their acceptance of an outsider in their midst. Many of Alarcón’s journalistic texts are reflective of this unconstrained access to the prisons. He has various pieces on the Lima prisons, such as “All Politics Is Local” and “Cafetín El Moshe: Location, Location . . . .” Given his experience living and working in Peru, and his detailed, well researched texts, many Peruvians living in Peru see Alarcón as one of them—a fellow Peruvian—and not as simply a US American.
Alarcón’s commitment to Peru and its history is well documented in his writings, but he has also focused on topics in the US, especially the crónicas written for the Peruvian cultural magazine Etiqueta Negra. Alarcón’s unique situation as a bicultural agent—brought up in the United States since the age of three, but with a Latin American consciousness resulting from maintaining contact with Peru through family and his research interests—makes these crónicas an ethnographic endeavor, an exercise in writing about culture that combines the perspective of a native with that of an outsider. Having studied, lived, and worked in various parts of the US, Alarcón has amassed an eclectic experience of this country, not only as an US American living and working in various parts of the country, but also as a Latino, as illustrated in one of his crónicas, “Los 50 estados te pertenecen” which I mention in my final section. Being a Latino, allows him to experience the country as an “Other.”  This transnational perspective, its representation, and the Peruvian people’s confidence in Alarcón’s texts lend credibility to his voice when speaking of the United States to Peruvian and Latin American readers, and vice versa.
As we consume not just tangible products, but ideas, lifestyles, and cultures that are exported and manufactured in different parts of the world, Alarcón offers information that makes us pause and think before we consume the United States. Given the urgency of a flooded globalized market tipping towards US-style consumerism, crónica as a form becomes extremely relevant and almost necessary. A fiction writer reaches his readers through an underlined message, through his characters and narrators. A piece of fiction is open to various interpretations, whatever maybe the author’s original intent. In non-fiction, the author has the capability to be direct and make sure the reader receives the message. It allows the author-narrator to directly address his readers. The cronista’s function is to describe the event, the people, and the environments in as much detail as much possible so as to bring the picture alive, but the cronista also has the option to include his subjective voice as vehemently as possible. Alarcón’s personal position about US culture is clear: it is a culture of excessive consumption. It values and celebrates extreme behavior, because it is good for its economy, and as it extends into global locations it also nurtures the idea of mimicking the “American” comportment of superfluous consumption. By being critical of the idea of excess, without being didactic, Alarcón, is warning his readers to consume the United States at their own peril, to be aware of the “fake” imaginary being marketed by a sector of people that does not necessarily represent the country as a whole, which at times is the opposite of what is exemplified. In the piece “El superhéroe farsante,” he not only writes about the fake and fantastical Hollywood, but also about the other side of Los Angeles, where common people reside:
—sus miles de barrios residenciales en su mayoría tristes—es imposible de conocer. . . . Es imposiblemente grande, confusa y surrealista. La playa que se ve en la televisión es, para la mayoría . . . sólo un rumor. . . . Uno llega al centro de la ciudad solo para encontrarlo vacío. A mediodía, el smog flota bajo y fétido, pero si uno mira hacia arriba, el cielo aún es azul . . . . (76, 80)
Los Angeles is not just home to the rich and the famous: there is whole other world of people without access to the multi-million-dollar houses along the California shoreline. By mentioning the smog, he brings into focus the problems of real life: traffic and pollution. Yet not all is grim—there is still the blue California sky, if one looks upwards and outwards. The suggestion is that Los Angeles, and even the USA, should be taken with a pinch of salt—the good with the bad.
Alarcón’s crónicas in Etiqueta Negra initiate a dialogue between the Latin American reader and US culture. The author does not tell his readers to not visit American-style malls or buy “Made in USA” products—if those even exist today—or watch Hollywood films. The crónicas merely function as a commentary on the cultural aspects that they curate. Alarcón suggests that the readers be aware of capitalist consumerism by zooming out from the spotlight, and shifting the hypnotic gaze from the glamorous and the ephemeral to the gritty and the real by contextualizing the historical and the socio-cultural origins of the products, and thus the culture, they consume.
However cynical Alarcón may be of US capitalism and consumerism—which are being exported as global commodities—he also sees the United States as a microcosm of the entire world. In “Los 50 estados te pertenecen” published in issue 50 of Etiqueta Negra, titled “El sur existe,” Alarcón writes of his personal experience of having lived, worked, and visited at least thirty of the fifty states. He says that the country never ceases to amaze him. It remains the country of immigrants who come to find their dreams, and every day there are more people around the world connected to the United States in one fashion or another: be it through immigrant family members and friends, or Hollywood, or US soldiers, or simply US American transnational companies, an image of the United States lives in the mind of the world. Alarcón sees the United States as the emotional and spiritual property of the entire world. He ends this piece by narrating a poignant epiphany of when he finally realizes what one Thai immigrant restaurant owner in Arizona had done in his restaurant. This restaurant had previously been a Texas BBQ restaurant. While there, Alarcón gazed at the huge mural of the Grand Canyon for a long time until he realized that the Thai owners had appropriated the space by adding their own special touch to the mural. It now had Buddhist temples and dragons, making their past and their culture a part of their present and amplifying the composite of cultures present in the US. It made him appreciate how we all mark our space, in small steps, “parte por parte, un paisaje, un panorama, un estado a la vez” (81). There is no denying that the entire world is in some way consuming the United States and creating their own image of it, and this also creates a channel for the world to travel to the United States. Thus, United States’ own culture is open to “corruption” even as it “corrupts” other cultures. It is in no way to suggest an equal exchange of commodities or power—rather, it proposes that this exchange is a two way process, and that the US is transculturated as it acculturates others.
“The City of Clowns.” The New Yorker, 16 Jun. 2003. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/06/16/city-of-clowns
While “chronicle” has been used by many critics, I use the term “crónica” simply because the Latin American crónica does not necessarily use the linear narration denoted by the English term “chronicle”. Aileen El-Kadi, co-editor of the anthology Sam no es mi tio: Veinte crónicas crónicas migrantes y un sueño americano (2012), explains that “crónicas should not be confused with the translation, ‘chronicles.’ Crónicas are traditional Latin American formats of storytelling that often break from the specific timeline through flashbacks” (Hagerup).
Each issue of Etiqueta Negra had a title, and number 10 was ¿Quién da más?
To read more on the transformation of traditional malls in today’s world due to the competition with e-commerce, see the article “Reinventing the Mall” by Annmarie Plenge and Todd Pilgreen in The Gensler Research Institute’s publication Dialogue. no. 35. https://www.gensler.com/publications/dialogue/35/reinventing-the-mall
This crónica appeared as “The Ground Floor” in the UK magazine Granta in the same year as the Spanish piece “El heroe farsante” in Etiqueta Negra. “The Ground Floor.” Granta, Autumn 2011, pp. 187-193.
“About.” Foam Weapon League. https://foamweaponleague.com/
Term popularized by the film Fight Club (1999) based on the eponymous novel (1996).
Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 1983. In his analysis of nationalism, Anderson propounds the idea that people of a nation feel part of a community even though they have never met each other, due to a socially constructed narrative.
Such constructed and incomplete perceptions about other US cities is not uncommon. In the crónica “Miami” (in Sam no es mi tío: Veinticuatro crónicas migrantes y un sueño americano. Alfaguara, 2012) Argentine author Claudia Piñero writes about the perception of Miami’s geographical boundaries. While on a work trip to Miami, Piñero attempts to visit a friend in Weston, FL without realizing that the city is 70 miles away from the hotel in South Beach, and not a suburb of Miami. In the mind of Piñero, and in that of many other Argentines, Disney, Universal Studies, and Key West are all part of Miami.
“Obesity.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity
“The Declaration of Independence”, 4 July 1776.
Bencomo’s two books are Entre heroes, fantasmas y apocalípticos:testigos y paisajes en la crónica mexicana. Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, Ediciones Plumas de Mompox, 2011 and Voces y voceros de la megalopolis. Madrid, Iberoamericana, 2002. Corona and Jörgensen’s edited volume is The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre. State University of NY Press. 2002. Egan's title is listed in Works Cited.
Bielsa, Esperança. The Latin American Urban Crónica: Between Literature and Mass Culture. Lexington Books, 2006. Mahieux, Viviane. Urban Chroniclers in Modern Latin America: The Shared Intimacy of Everyday Life. University of Texas Press, 2011. Rotker, Susana. La invención de la crónica. Buenos Aires, Ediciones Letra Buena, 1992. González, Aníbal. La crónica modernista hispanoamericana. Madrid, J. Porrúa Turanzas, 1983. Ramos, Julio. Desencuentros de la modernidad en América Latina: Literatura y política en el siglo XIX. Mexico City, Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1989.
The English translation appears in Corona and Jörgensen’s edited volume.
Most of this information was collected through interviews with Alarcón, Villanueva Chang, Huberto Jara, the owner, and members of the Etiqueta Negra’s editorial staff.
Magical Realism, sometimes used synonymously, became popular internationally with Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez and his fictional village of Macondo, featured in his novel Cien años de soledad (1967).
Canclini offers a tripartite approach to his “consumption and citizenship” of a globalized world. It is a need for active citizen participation in what they consume and how they consume it, and a democratic process, which allows a variety of products and messages reflective of the international market, information from various reliable sources about the quality of the products, and how these products are acquired and made available to benefit the maximum. (68-9)
He has also edited a writer’s handbook entitled The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook. Holt Paperbacks, 2010. It is a collection of answers from various authors on the art of novel writing.
However, the translated versions at times differ as they might contain less, more, or different stories. Here are the bibliographic details of the short-story collections: War By Candlelight: Stories. Harper, 2005. Guerra a la luz de las velas. Translated by Jorge Cornejo, Lima, Alfaguara, 2006 and Guerra en la penumbra. Translated by Julio Paredes Castro and Renato Alarcón. Rayo, 2005. The King is Always Above the People. Riverhead Books, 2017. El rey siempre está por encima del pueblo. Translated by Roberto Frías, Jorge Cornejo, and César Ballón. Mexico, D.F.: Sexto Piso, 2009, and El rey siempre está por encima del pueblo. Translated by Roberto Frías, Jorge Cornejo, and César Ballón. Mexico, D.F., Alfaguara, 2010.
Lost City Radio. Harper, 2007 and Radio ciudad perdida. Translated by Jorge Cornejo. Lima, Alfaguara, 2007. At Night We Walk in Circles. River Head Books, 2013 and De noche andamos en círculos. Translated by Jorge Cornejo Calle. Barcelona, Seix Barral, 2014.
Los provincianos. Translated by Jorge Cornejo. Solar, Lima, 2013 and “The Provincials.” Granta, vol. 118, 2012, pp. 138-172.
“Let’s Go Country: The New Left Comes to Peru.” Harper’s Magazine, Sep. 2006, pp. 77-84 and “All Politics is Local: Election night in Peru’s largest Prison.” Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2012, pp. 35-44.
“Viaje a la semilla de la piratería en el país donde todo—todo todo todo—puede ser falsificado.” Translated by Alejandro Tellería. Etiqueta Negra, Apr. 2010, pp. 60-78.
This crónica is about book piracy in Peru, where cheap pirated books rob the author and the publisher of profits from sales and royalties.
“Cafetín El Moshe: Location, Location . . . .” Berkley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2009, pp. 60-64.
In a survey I conducted with twenty-two students at the Universidad Nacional San Marcos, Lima, who read Radio ciudad perdida for class, eighteen indicated that they considered Alarcón to be a Peruvian writer because of his birthplace and commitment to writing about Peru, among other reasons. Peruvian newspaper reviews of Alarcón’s texts also label him as Peruvian, with some acknowledging his US American life and his writing in English.
In one of his non-fictional pieces for Salon.com “What Kind of Latino Am I?” Alarcón writes about the disappointment he brings to a certain group of people when they learn that he is a Latino who “grew up in the suburbs and went to an expensive private college,” rather than being a child of “illegal immigrants.”