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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

Daughter of Invention

A Regular Revolution

Trespass

Summary

After arriving in the United States, Laura would take the girls window- shopping in department stores and try to invent things. At night she would lie in bed and sketch out household inventions and strange contraptions, like a child's double-compartment drinking glass with a straw. She thought it was a problem that her daughters wanted to become Americans and would argue with them in English, throwing in odd and confused idioms like "green behind the ears." She felt that she was a good Dominican mother, but a failure as an American Mom.

One night, she showed Yolanda a sketch of a car bumper with a removable can opener attached, which she thought would be convenient for picnickers. Her daughters felt frustrated that she was not able to better help them explore their identities as immigrants and withstand the pressures of discrimination and assimilation that they faced going to American schools. They felt that her inventions were a waste of time that she could have spent better supporting their efforts to fit into American culture. Though her mother compared her own creative effort to Yolanda's poetry writing, her daughter still disregarded the inventions. The daughters humored her because they realize that their mother's social status evaporated when she came to the United States, and she needed to create a new identity out of more than class snobbery. She became frustrated that she could not turn her good ideas into profitable business ventures, so she decided to organize her husband's office instead.

While in school, Yolanda was chosen to write a speech to be given to her class. She was embarrassed by her accent and feared being humiliated in front of her unfriendly and foreign peers. Her mother offered to help, but Yolanda wanted to do it herself. Carlos offered advice in Spanish, but the sisters did not understand most of his formal diction. She was inspired by reading Walt Whitman and wrote the speech quickly, finally satisfied that she sounded like herself in English. Her father was concerned with the political situation in the Dominican Republic and was considering returning the family to the Island. He was also scandalized by Yolanda's insubordinate and disrespectful attitude towards teachers, plagiarized from Whitman. Yolanda's mother defended the speech and further angered her father, who feared a house full of independent and Americanized women. He tore the speech into pieces, leading Yolanda to call him "Chapita," the nickname used for Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic. Yolanda ran into her bedroom and locked the door until her mother came to help her write a new speech. Though full of bland platitudes, the schoolteachers liked it. Her father came home the next day with a new electric typewriter for Yolanda, and apologized for his behavior. After helping her daughter write the speech, Laura Garcia never invented again.

Analysis

Laura Garcia's attempts to invent useful and profitable household gadgets reflect her desire to find a place for herself within the stereotypical American dream. Because her roles as a mother and wife have changed since the move from the Dominican Republic to the United States, she hopes to reinvent her own identity through her family and her new home. This process draws on the spirit of Whitman, who sang himself into being in Leaves of Grass, and reflects a particularly American way of seeing the creation of one's identity.

Yolanda's struggle to write in English and create a speech that reflects her own spirit mirrors her mother's struggle to come up with inventions that actually make sense. Her difficulty articulating her perspectives through the idioms of her new language also matches her daughter's trouble finding her own voice in English. These reasons contribute to Laura's sympathy for her daughter and pride in the speech that she first writes. Yolanda's first speech embodies the American attitude that encourages intellectual independence and aesthetic risk- taking, which she first encounters in Whitman's writings.

Her father's anger stems from his adherence to traditional Dominican values, which place importance on a child's obedient and humble submission to religious, parental and educational authority. Her mother does not see her speech as evidence of disobedience and disrespect because she appreciates the risks her daughter is willing to take to forge a new American identity for herself. Yolanda's response, comparing her father to the dictator Trujillo, draws attention to the aspects of American culture and society that her father left the Dominican Republic to embrace. She implies that blind submission to political authority represents the essence of dictatorship, injustice, and abuse of authority. Yolanda wants her father to recognize that he cannot encourage her to integrate herself into American society without also accepting the aspects of intellectual and civic liberty that do not easily fit into traditional Dominican culture.

The reconciliation between father and daughter reflects his willingness to let her invent herself as she must to fit into American culture, and his desire to encourage her ambition and talent through writing. Yolanda's second speech serves as a compromise between the American intellectual revolutionary and the Dominican traditionalist sides of her personality. Her mother helps her to integrate these two aspects of her heritage before discarding her hopes of fame and riches as an inventor. This may indicate Laura's disillusionment with the American dream, or her satisfaction with the role she has created for herself as a wife and mother to a Dominican family living in the United States.

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