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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

The Human Body

The Blood of the Conquistadores

Still Lives

Summary

Yolanda remembers the close ties between her sisters and her cousins when they lived in the family compound of adjoining houses in the Dominican Republic. Each sister had a particular cousin who was close in age and a best friend. Yolanda's buddy was her boy cousin Mundin, even though their friendship was discouraged by her aunts. Her family members worried that Yolanda would end up a tomboy.

Her grandfather had a political appointment for the United Nations, and as a result had to deal with close scrutiny and annoying searches by the dictatorship and the secret police. Yolanda's only experience with violence was what she saw in American movies. Her grandmother needed special treatments in the U.S. for unspecified medical issues, and her grandfather humored her willfulness. They often traveled to New York City, and they would always bring toys for the children when they returned from a trip to the U.S.

Yolanda was discouraged from being a tomboy or playing cowboy with her male cousins, but she once received a cowgirl outfit with a skirt that matched Mundin's cowboy outfit. Once their Aunt Mimi brought them a toy called The Human Body, a plastic doll with removable body parts, and pink modeling clay. She also brought a book about Scheherezade's enchanting story-telling abilities. Yolanda enjoyed reading the book until her cousin Mundin teased her with the clay. He made a long boa constrictor out of the clay and tempted her to follow him. He offered to trade the clay to Yolanda if she would show him that she was a girl. He wanted her to prove it in a coal shed at the back of the family compound. The family lived next door to the dictator's daughter and her family, and the coal shed was strictly off limits to the children.

Sofia followed Yolanda and Mundin into the shed and threatened to tell on them. Yolanda told her she could stay if she promised to keep her mouth shut. Each girl pulled off her clothes and panties, and Mundin was disappointed to learn that they just look like dolls. He then divided the clay equally between the two sisters. Yolanda wanted all of it and felt jealous that her sister got an equal share of the deal. She then demanded that Mundin give her the Human Body doll in exchange for not telling on him. Mundin agreed and ran to get the doll.

Mundin's mother and the gardener then found the two sisters lurking around in the dirty shed. When questioned, Yolanda lied and claimed they were hiding from the secret police. Mundin returned but did not confirm her story. Mundin's mother did not know whether to believe the children or not, but made them all return to the house. When all the pieces of the Human Body were finally collected, they had been chewed by the dog or crushed, and they did not all fit back into the doll the way they should have.

Analysis

Yolanda's childhood experiences contributed to her perceptions of gender norms and appropriate modes of behavior for girls and women in the Dominican Republic. The fact that her cowboy outfit included a skirt and her cousin's had more versatile pants emphasizes the difference between them. He would be allowed to play in more physical and dangerous ways than she would, since she was forbidden from acting like a tomboy. Yet, Yolanda saw it as a triumph that the outfits were as similar as they could be, given the required differences. The children got into trouble when overwhelmed by their greed for extra toys and their curiosity to understand the gender differences that they were coerced into recognizing.

Yolanda's enjoyment of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights foreshadows her later development as a writer and storyteller. The clay form that Mundin uses to tempt Yolanda into sin and trouble in the coal shed recalls Eve's fall from grace due to the serpent's temptation in Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve is a fundamental parable of gender difference that underlies Catholic attitudes toward sex and gender.

The Human Body doll represents a clinical and academic understanding of the body, something the children generally were not permitted to access when it related to sexuality. Within Dominican culture the female children would not have access to sex education the way they might in the American educational system. Yolanda's desire to get the doll from her male cousin could represent a her wish to even out the sexual double standard as it related to sex education and awareness. Certainly Mundin has the upper hand when convincing the girls to show him their genitals, since he does not have to make a similar sacrifice for them. Mundin's comment that the girls only looked like dolls could indicate a future penchant for objectifying women's bodies.

The destruction of the Human Body doll represents the fact that once innocence is tainted by the brutal realities of life, all the pieces that once added up to a coherent whole will not fit together anymore. This process could foreshadow Yolanda's future disillusionment with love, sex, and marriage.

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