How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
The Blood of the Conquistadores
Carlos noticed men with guns coming toward his house. He motioned for the maid, Chucha, to be quiet and ran into the bedroom closet. He also signaled for Yoyo to be quiet. He hid in a secret compartment with supplies and a gun that Vic had smuggled in for him. Yoyo thought that her father was playing a game, like when he would ask if she had the blood of the Conquistadors while holding her upside down by her ankles. She thought the dark skinned men looked creepy as they entered her house, and she noticed their guns. She thought they must be either criminals or the secret police in plain clothes that her mother has told her about. Yoyo was afraid because once she told a made-up story about her father having a gun to the neighbor, and she was beaten for it. Her mother said she almost got her father killed. Yoyo refused to talk to the men because she thought they must be in her house about the gun story. The men said her father should put locks on the doors to keep his daughters safe, and Chucha announced their mother's return home. She sprinkled powder around the house, casting a voodoo spell.
Laura was scared when she spotted a black Volkswagen and the secret police outside her house. She told a servant to call Vic and tell him to come to get his tennis shoes. This was a code for trouble with the secret police. Laura tried to intimidate the lower class officers with snobbery, as she waited for Vic to come and help. Vic worked for the CIA and had promised to get the Garcia family out of the country. One man, Fernando, had already hung himself in jail after being tortured. She stalled the men with beer and snacks, waiting for Vic to arrive. Vic was interrupted while having sex with a young prostitute. He went to Laura's sister's house, where several uncles have been hiding in a bedroom. They explained the situation to Vic as Carla and Sandra noticed that their family members seemed strangely nervous. Carla wondered why Vic never wore tennis shoes when he showed up to pay off the secret police. When Vic arrived at the Garcias' house, he announced that Carlos had received a fellowship at a hospital in the United States. At that moment, Laura realized they would soon leave the Island.
The secret police officers, Pupo and Checo, had been assigned to report on Dr. Garcia's comings and goings. When Vic arrived they worried that they had given an influential family a hard time, since Vic confirmed their connections to the Embassy. Pupo worried that his supervisor would punish their mistake. Laura told her children to pick out their best clothes and one toy to take on the trip to the U.S. Sandra realized that no toy would be able to fill the emptiness opening up inside her.
Carlos had heard the police question his wife and felt relieved when Vic arrived. Sofia did not remember the last day they were on the Island because she was the youngest. Her sisters would tell her she almost got her father killed for being mean to the police. Sandra only remembered Chucha, a Haitian maid who practiced voodoo and slept in a coffin. Chucha prayed for the girls and made them cry, just like her wooden statue dripping water. Chucha explained how she had been left to watch the house by herself, since the other servants were dismissed after the family left. She described the decay and disrepair the house would suffer and the haunted feeling the girls would experience in the future. Then she climbed into her coffin to sleep.
The present tense used to narrate this chapter lends a sense of urgency, tension, and suspense as the Garcia family struggles to survive nearly fatal encounters with the dictatorship's henchmen. The present tense also gives the sense that this chapter is not merely a collection of memories, but rather an event that continues to occur, even in the current moment. The family's last day on the Island ties all the different characters and perspectives together in one point of time that continues to effect all of them in various ways throughout the rest of their lives. We can see in this chapter the roots of all the problems the family has faced in previous chapters.
The narrative perspective shifts between each family member, as well as the servants, the police, and Vic. The shifting perspective highlights the fact that the family's last day on the Island had such momentous consequences for all of the characters in the book. Each one has separate memories and impressions of the short period of time that tore the family from their home and extended family. The inclusion of the perspectives of peripheral characters emphasizes that this period of dictatorship effected not only the Garcia family, but also the larger community and Dominican society. The perspectives of lower class people, such as the servants and police, balances out the novel's focus on a wealthy, upper class family. Yet both Chucha and the police seem powerless to influence the course of events they contribute to, and submit themselves to the authority of the state and their bosses while simply hoping for the best.
The only first person narrative is told by Chucha and concludes the chapter. This is an unusual perspective to tell this moment of the plot, when the Garcia family has finally left the Dominican Republic for good. This is the most decisive turning point for the Garcia family, yet it is told from the point of view of a woman who was often ignored, misunderstood, or forgotten by various family members.
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