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Peruvian-American writers bring Latin-American roots to the United States

Many Latin Americans have chosen or been forced to relocate abroad in search of opportunities. This is the story of immigrants and of two Peruvian writers now naturalized American citizens living stateside who are part of the Latin American diaspora. At IDB headquarters, Peruvian-American writers Eduardo González Viaña and Daniel Alarcón recently presented their new books, published in English but with a Latin American soul and flair.

Globalization is not just a source of inspiration for these two authors: it's the foundation of their own stories as immigrant writers. In their books, González Viaña and Alarcón tell about the fleeting euphoria immigrants experience, the novelty that soon wears off, the lost charm and more. They also refer to the immigrants' perplexity about language and homesickness.

War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón is a compilation of short stories about people who live on the fringes of the globalized and unglobalized world. He described them as “the stories of those who shuttle between different worlds and never quite feel at home."

In one of the stories, entitled “Absence,” Alarcón tries to convey the mystery behind every immigrant: : "Leaving is no problem. It's exciting actually; in fact, it's a drug. It's the staying gone that will kill you. This is the handed-down wisdom of the immigrant."

Our world is changing, noted Alarcón. He and González Viaña tell part of the story of globalization, mainly through the stories of immigrants. American Dreams by González Viaña (translated from the Spanish by Heather Moore Cantarero) is a compilation of short stories about the hardships and challenges endured by Latin American immigrants in the United States.

While González Viaña tells stories revolving around international immigration, Alarcón focuses on life in one of the biggest and poorest neighborhoods in the Peruvian capital, largely populated by migrants from the highlands. The two books show that those who immigrate up north or to Lima do so in the hopes of improving their lives and finding work, of escaping from places where they are doomed to poverty.

About the authors. Although both books revolve around migration and González Viaña and Alarcón share Peruvian roots and similar literary influences, the authors have different backgrounds.

González Viaña, who first came to the United States as a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said he has exercised many professions over the course of his career—lawyer, professor and journalist—but is a writer by vocation. He has authored over 20 books, many of which have been translated into English, such as his recent publication, American Dreams .

This experienced writer described how difficult it is to be an author in Peru. Like many other contemporary Peruvian writers, he could not afford the luxury of living on writing alone and had to learn another trade. To grow as writers, most had to become lawyers, professors or other professionals that are more socially acceptable, while they struggled to realize their literary aspirations separately. González Viaña is one example besides many well-known Peruvian writers, such as José María Arguedas, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Julio Ramón Ribeyro, César Vallejo and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Daniel Alarcón, on the other hand, is a full-time writer, which surprised the older González Viaña, who was pleased to hear that there are more opportunities for younger writers like Alarcón who don't face the same obstacles as Peruvian writers from the previous generation.

Alarcón just published his first book, War by Candlelight , and is a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College in Oakland, California. He was born in Lima, Peru, but raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from Columbia University in New York, he worked as a counselor and teacher in New York City public schools and later earned a Master in Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Alarcón and González Viaña shared their books and experiences with an attentive audience at a panel organized by the IDB Cultural Center and moderated by Marie Arana, editor of the Washington Post Book World. Arana, who is also a Peruvian-born author, fielded questions from the audience after the writers gave their presentations. The event was sponsored by the Embassy of Peru.

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