How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
This family epic follows several generations of the Garcia and de la Torre families as they struggle to hold together a sense of family solidarity in the midst of migration, divorces, family disputes, and cultural change. Like the Garcia sisters, Julia Alvarez was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States in 1960. This was her first novel, followed by several others also dealing with Dominican women immigrants. The novel was written during a period of increased immigration from the Dominican Republic when the community of Dominicans living in the United States expanded. Along with other writers and artists, Alvarez contributed to the articulation of a new Dominican- American identity. In addition, this novel shares a space along with other works written by Caribbean immigrants concerned with exploring the experience of Spanish speakers and their descendants in the United States. The geographic proximity of the U.S., as well as its historical and continuing political influence in this region, distinguishes the experiences of these communities from other immigrant groups.
Alvarez's protagonists share some things in common with the typical Dominican immigrant experience, such as the painful dislocation of family ties and difficult cultural readjustments. It is important to keep in mind, however, that most Dominicans living in the U.S. did not come from the privileged background that the Garcia family enjoyed. Though the girls dwell on the financial hardship they faced during the first year of life in the U.S., the family drew on tremendous financial and political resources that many Dominicans did not enjoy. They perceive hardship only in comparison to the lavish and luxurious lifestyle they were used to in the Dominican Republic, where different economic conditions meant that the family could afford numerous servants and expansive estates. Even in the United States, the girls were given expensive private education and numerous opportunities to travel. In this sense, the novel does not represent the typical Dominican immigrant experience. However, it contributed to mainstream awareness of the differences between American and Dominican culture, as well as the psychological difficulties facing children who are forced to suddenly move from one cultural context to another.
For Hispanic communities in the United States, the question of whether the Garcia girls have truly lost their accents is a critical one. Hispanic communities have not integrated into the mainstream in the same ways that previous immigrant communities have, indicating the differences between previous patterns of migration and the current pressures that Hispanics face. Alvarez's novel illustrates a desire to retain access to the language and culture of the home nation while also incorporating oneself into the new country's culture, economy and political system.
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