How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
During the family's first year in New York, they rented a small apartment near a Catholic school. Yolanda liked the teachers there, especially her grandmotherly fourth grade teacher, Sister Zoe. This teacher told Yolanda that she had a beautiful name and insisted that the class be taught how to pronounce it correctly. Yolanda was the only immigrant in the class and got special tutoring from Sister Zoe to help her learn English. She was seated apart from the other students to practice pronouncing words like "laundromat," "subway," and "snow."
Yolanda soon had learned enough English to understand that the Cuban missile crisis was making everyone very nervous. Yolanda's school had air-raid drills and she imagined what would happen to their bodies if a nuclear missile hit New York. She learned new words to describe the situation like "radioactive fallout" and "bomb shelter." Sister Zoe explained how a bomb would explode, and drew pictures on the chalkboard of mushroom clouds and fallout. Yolanda and her family prayed for world peace.
When winter came, the days grew shorter and the weather colder. One day as Yolanda sat at her desk by the window, she saw spots in the air like the ones on the chalkboard. She screamed "Bomb!" and some girls began to cry. Sister Zoe just laughed and explained that it was only snow. Yolanda watched the snow that she had heard so much about, but had never seen before, as Sister Zoe explained that each flake was unique and beautiful, like each person.
Yolanda's growing vocabulary better prepares her to interact with American culture and will open up a new world of language and literature. In the mean time, it prepares her to describe the unexpected aspects of American society that she cannot imagine or relate to as a Dominican girl. Her teacher's kindness is a pillar of support in an uncertain and terrifying age, when the threat nuclear holocaust seems more real. Yolanda's fear leads her to assume the worst when she encounters a strange and unknown phenomenon.
This short anecdote becomes a funny story Yolanda can tell the reader in the first person. This memory also indicates why she grew to use language as a tool to deal with the unusual and uncertain traumas she will encounter later in life. If she can name a phenomenon in English and thus understand its beauty or danger, she feels prepared to find a place for herself in the United States and better articulate her own voice.
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