Mami and Papi had worked in the United States for almost four years before a small revolution in the Dominican Republic convinced them to become citizens in New York. The sisters complained about the less prosperous conditions in the United States and wanted to go home to the Island. Then Carla met a pervert, the sisters were subjected to ethnic slurs at school, and Sandra tried a tampon. Because of these shocking and disgraceful events, the girls were then sent away to boarding schools to avoid these kinds of American problems.
Their peers at school assumed the girls were rich and related to dictators because they were foreign students in expensive boarding schools. Their privilege seemed more mysterious and not as familiar as Hoover vacuum cleaners or Hanes panty hose. The sisters enjoyed the freedom of living away from home by kissing boys and smoking cigarettes. They tried to keep their parents from suspecting that they were learning American vices, but they could not hide for long. The parents then decided that the girls would be sent back to the Island for the summers to reconnect them to their extended families and Dominican culture.
The sisters got in trouble with their mother for a small bag of marijuana that had fallen behind the bed. Sofia admitted to possession of the drugs and was punished with a year in the Dominican Republic rather than American boarding school. After six months, she had changed her appearance and wore her hair and makeup with way Dominican women did. She had also started dating her uncle's illegitimate son, Manuel, who turned out to be bossy and possessive. When they went to the Island for Christmas, the three other sisters felt outraged by his sexist and provincial Dominican attitudes toward women and tried to humiliate him by drawing on their American feminism. They ridiculed his ignorance of Mary Wollstonecraft while making fun of his macho insecurities.
Manuel pressured Sofia to have sex, but she resisted because she could not access contraception while in the Dominican Republic without causing a family scandal. One night while out on the town, their cousin Mundin brought the three sisters to a sleazy motel to show them the dark side of Dominican morality. While there, innocently enjoying the scenery, they noticed Manuel's car. The three sisters were outraged that Sofia was sleeping with a man who refused to wear a condom, and they decided to get the two lovers into trouble. The three sisters insisted that Mundin take them home before Sofia and Manuel left the motel. This meant that the couple would be left without a chaperone, and the relatives would be outraged. Their mother decided that Sofia had to be sent back to the United States before her reputation was ruined. Sofia called her sisters traitors, but they insisted that she would get over her anger and fears.
Just as Yolanda has difficulties dating American men in the United States, Sofia has trouble maintaining a romantic relationship with a Dominican man in her home country. The four sisters have been exposed to casual attitudes toward sex and drugs in the United States, as well as concepts of feminist equality that don't translate easily into Dominican culture. The girls bounce between the taboos of each culture as their parents try to strike a balance and find a place for the sisters where their cultural and family roots can be supported and celebrated. The sisters have a problem with their parents sending them to the Dominican Republic because they have become so Americanized that they cannot understand or tolerate the sexual double standards that remain in more pronounced ways on the Island.
Sofia had spent six months trying to adapt to her new environment and reconnect to a culture and language that she had left behind as a very young child. Her romantic involvement with a first cousin who is illegitimate satisfies her American desire to shock and scandalize her provincial and closed-minded relatives. Yet at the same time, she wants to fit into Dominican culture and be appreciated by Manuel, so she tolerates his badgering comments about her clothes and behavior. She submits to his obsessively possessive nature in order to reintegrate herself into traditional Dominican gender roles.
Her sisters' reactions betray their difficulty relating to their home country's culture. Though they fully understand the consequences of manipulating the system of chaperones to expose Sofia's indiscretion and sexual activity, they refuse to accept Sofia's submission to Dominican sexual double standards. The sisters are also troubled by the possibility of Sofia's subordination to a male sexual partner through an unintended pregnancy. They betray Sofia's trust only in order to force upon her a more American cynicism toward romance and a more pragmatic attitude toward sex.
Their mother's reaction to Sofia's scandal reflects the difficulty all the sisters face in negotiating the space between the two cultures. While attending American boarding schools they experiment with American vices like marijuana, yet in the Dominican Republic they learn about illicit and unprotected sexual scandals. They disappoint their mother in both places because they do not behave as good Dominican girls ought to. This confirms her fear that they have lost their connection to the culture, and that she has failed in her effort to instill in them the values she grew up with.