How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Yolanda had returned to the Dominican Republic for the first time in five years, possibly to stay on a permanent basis. Her extended family had prepared a cake to welcome her home, shaped like the Island. Candles marked out the major cities, and her younger cousins fought over who would get to eat which city. One of the maids could not find matches to light the candles, so they waited for her to fetch some from the neighbor's house. Yolanda's aunts and cousins bluntly criticized her appearance, as Yolanda silently critiqued theirs. Her aunts complained about how difficult it was to find good help these days, for instance a chauffeur who could keep the car full of gas. Yolanda was struck by the maids' gestures of pleading that she recognizes from illustrated Renaissance books. She also had difficulty speaking in Spanish, stumbling over what she wanted to explain and missing certain key words. Her aunts explained that the word antojo means a craving for something you want to eat, or more specifically, the desire of someone who has been taken over by a saint. Yolanda decided that her antojo was to drive north into the countryside toward the coast to look for guavas. The aunts cautioned her against this plan, as it was dangerous for a woman to travel alone through the mountains in an expensive car. Taking a bus was also out of the question, because Yolanda would have to ride with campesinos, or peasants.
Yolanda decided to drive north anyway, in a Datsun borrowed from a cousin. As she drove, she enjoyed the scenic countryside, and wondered if the Island would be her permanent home. She was startled by an army bus full of leering soldiers, and was also unnerved by an armed guard patrolling in front of a flowery mansion. She suspected that her relatives owned the mansion. She stopped in a small village to ask where to find fresh guavas to pick herself. An old woman suggested that her grandson could guide her to the guava grove, so Yolanda took a group of young boys guava picking. After they had loaded the car with guavas, they got a flat tire. Yolanda told the boy she would give him a dollar if he would run back to the mansion to ask for help. While he was gone, two men with machetes approached the car and asked Yolanda if she needed help. She was terrified of the men and could not move or speak. When they asked if she was American she responded in English and tried to explain that she had a flat tire. They changed the tire for her and she gave them money to thank them for their help. She drove down the road to find the boy who she sent for help. Because the security guard did not believe that a Dominican woman would be out alone after sunset, the boy was beaten for telling lies.
Yolanda has traveled to the Dominican Republic in order to search for her cultural and personal identity. Her difficulty relating to her relatives and other Dominicans reflects the emotional complexity of immigration. Having left her home country at a very young age, she has lost much of the language and culture that forms her family background and national heritage. For this reason, she approaches situations differently than the rest of her family, and there is a gap between their cultural perspective and her own. This gap leads to a certain distance between her and the other members of the family. The intimacy she should feel upon being reunited with her aunts and cousins contrasts with the alienation she actually feels.
Yolanda's return to her extended family is complicated because she does not fit into Dominican culture the way her cousins do. She sticks out physically because she dresses informally and wears her hair long and naturally, whereas her cousins wear designer pantsuits and color their hair. She does not fit in linguistically because she has forgotten much of her Spanish and cannot express herself well. She also has a dramatically different perspective on class than the rest of her family. She notices the poor treatment that the maids receive, as well as deferential physical postures that reflect their class subordination. They seem to adopt these humble postures to deflect the aunts' verbal abuse, and Yolanda sympathizes with them rather than her complaining aunts.
Because she has left the United States and is considering staying in the Dominican Republic permanently, we can guess that Yolanda does not fit in well to American culture, either. Yet, during her moment of greatest crisis and fear, she embraces her identity as an American and chatters on in English to the men who only want to solve her car trouble. Her initial distrust of the men reflects her fears of the Dominican Republic and all the unknowns it represents. Though she should be at home in her home country, she feels like a stranger and is more comfortable when treated as a foreigner.
Yolanda consistently expects the wrong reaction from the Dominicans she meets. She expects the two men with machetes to try and harm her, when in fact they only want to help her on her way. She also expects the mansion security guard to respect the young boy she sends for help. Yet because she does not behave as a Dominican woman would, the guard does not believe the boy's story. This event shows that Yolanda will not be able to integrate herself into Dominican culture and society as if she had never left. Her twenty-nine years living in the United States has shaped her identity, so she can only return to her homeland as an outsider.
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