Bringing Women into the Spotlight

The book Citadinas sin bambalinas was conceived as part of the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of Panama City. It is an attempt to recover the stories of the women of this city and to see history through their eyes in a country where history has nearly always been portrayed from a male point of view.

Clara González. Ilustración de Martanoemí Noriega.



Por Ana Teresa Benjamín
Fotos: Javier Pinzón y David Mesa
Ilustraciones: Cortesía Comisión 500 años


The idea was to bring women into the spotlight, to present women and their doubts, ideals, and struggles. Listen to their voices. Put ourselves in their shoes, try to persevere as they did. Rejoice in their triumphs, which were also triumphs for many others.

The book Citadinas sin bambalinas (Panama City: Women into the Spotlight) was conceived as part of the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Panama City. It is an attempt to recover the stories of the women who lived a particular reality in this seaside city, offering a different take on the country’s history, which has nearly always been told from a male point of view. 

The result is an ensemble of eighty novelized biographies that, in the words of writer Héctor Collado, “gently introduce children and young people to the deeds of those who came before them.” The book demonstrates how women’s thoughts and actions are interwoven throughout history; although it is aimed at children, adults will find the book equally enjoyable, since the texts “show risks and ideas for change,” as noted by writer Javier Stanziola. It is an effort to break down stereotypes that are so ingrained they are often taken for granted. 

Citadinas sin bambalinas is beautifully illustrated by more than sixty artists who reveal their own styles in their interpretations of the texts written by Lilmaría Herrera, Consuelo Tomás, and Martanoemí Noriega, who is likewise an illustrator. 

The first print edition of 750 hardcover copies of Citadinas sold out. Keep an eye out for the second edition of 1000 copies in June. The women of Panama City will win you over.

Joaquina Pereira. Ilustración de Amir Lucky.


Lilmaría Herrera:Writer, Translator, Communicator, Storyteller, and Puppet Theater Actress.

It all began with Puss in Boots. Lilmaría had no way of knowing it then, but she now recognizes that her first encounter with literature was listening to her father, Alfonso Herrera y Franco, patiently reading her the popular French classic over and over. Then would come the stories about the province of Darién, that land of fantastical jungles, people, and foods; the thick tomes of biographies of celebrated people penned by her grandfather; and the letters, handwritten in the most formal of styles, to an uncle who lived in Argentina. 

Lilmaría grew up surrounded by stories, but once she reached adulthood, she did not know what to do. Or how. She wanted to be a taxi driver, a police officer, a cashier. She grew disenchanted with the study of law. She imagined herself at sea, like another uncle who was a sailor and acrobat. “I have always admired people who do many things, and without trying to, I ended up being like that,” says Lilmaría Herrera by phone from her little corner of Chiriquí.

Studying journalism gave her a clearer vision ―she realized that writing was her calling. Working as a preschool teacher taught her that she liked children. She later worked at the National Library, where she watched writer Héctor Collado’s storytelling sessions and said to herself: “Hey, I want to do that.” 


Carmen Cedeño. Ilustración de Natalia Pía Conde Díez.


Consuelo Tomás: Poet, Essayist, Social Worker, Puppet Theater Actress, and Communicator.

Consuelo Tomás poses uncomfortable questions. She writes about oblivion, laughter, and other propensities. She refuses to give up. In her latest book, she “plays” with epitaphs and tips a wink to death.

Born on Isla Colón, the Panamanian writer lived in her native Bocas del Toro until the age of three, when her father decided to move the family to the capital “to give us a good education and a more comfortable life.” She remembers that the island did not even have running water at the time. That’s how the Panamanian poet was “transplanted” to the capital, but every summer she and her siblings headed back to their birthplace to kick off their shoes and “let loose like wild things…” to enjoy the countryside and the beach. 

A lover of music —”words and rhythm are a good mix” — Consuelo Tomás has trouble understanding this century and its values, but she resolutely declares herself a feminist: “I’m not a militant, but I take a stand when need be.”  

Given this, it was almost inevitable that she would become one of the authors of this work, which is important to her: “Citadinas sin bambalinas does justice to the memory of great women who did a lot, not only for the city, but for the country, at a time when they faced enormous obstacles to taking part in public life. With its inclusion of visual artists, this book is a work of both research and of art, not to mention being educational, but in a playful way.”

Georgina Jiménez. Ilustración de Daniela GW.


Martanoemí Noriega: Illustrator, Muralist, and Writer.

Martanoemí started out in advertising. She invented ways to make other people buy things they didn’t need and a whirl of confusion soon overwhelmed her. That is why she started to eat soup. Broccoli, to be precise. A lot of soup, always accompanied by a book. 

One time, in between a spoonful of soup and a taste of sadness, the poetry collection Todo en regla (Everything in Order) fell into her hands. She noticed the name of the author: Lilmaría Herrera. “When I met her, I told her I liked the book so much that I wanted to illustrate it,” she tells us. 

That encounter birthed dreams and shining stars including the socio-political and artistic publishing house Pelo Malo, verses on walls, and the Cuentos para rodar project. Advertising is just a memory now and Martanoemí’s days are filled with thoughts of the best way to illustrate this book, that festival, that neighborhood wall over there. 

Martanoemí Noriega, coordinator of the Citadinas sin bambalinas team of illustrators, is a writer who has also illustrated twelve books. She feels this is a significant work: “It is important not only because it recovers the history of all these women, but because it is a fresh way of telling their stories, enhanced by illustrations.”