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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

The four Garcia sisters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia, enjoyed a fairly sheltered and luxurious childhood in the Dominican Republic. They often received exciting presents from FAO Schwarz in the United States. Carla remembers an iron bank representing Mary ascending to heaven, which she gave to one of the family's maids, who was later dismissed for stealing the bank. Yolanda played with her boy cousin and showed him her genitals in exchange for a Human Body doll and modeling clay. She also stole a newborn kitten from its mother and put it inside a drum that she played until she grew bored and threw the kitten outside, where it sadly hobbled away. The mother cat appeared to her in nightmares and haunted her. Sandra wanted to be an artist but her irrepressible spirit got her in trouble and she was thrown out of art class. She later came upon a naked chained insane sculptor who scared her as she fell and broke her arm. She lost her artistic vision and settled for being the sculptor's muse when she realized he had used her face in a representation of the Virgin Mary.

When their father, Carlos, got in trouble with the secret police for agitating against the military dictatorship, the family enlisted the help of a CIA operative, Vic, to get them out of the country. They fled to New York City, where they had trouble adjusting culturally and materially to the new situation. Laura, the sisters' mother, came from a wealthy and influential family in the Dominican Republic and did not like having to become a middle class nobody in the United States. She found comfort through supporting her daughters' endeavors, such as Yolanda's poetry and Sofia's defiance of her father's overprotective nature.

Dr. Fanning helped Carlos get a medical fellowship, and offered to take the family out for a celebratory dinner once they had settled in the United States. Laura wanted to make a good impression and pressured the girls to behave themselves and not ask for any special treats. After Sandra saw Mrs. Fanning kiss her father in the restroom, she insisted that Dr. Fanning buy her a flamenco doll. Carla had trouble fitting in to American school settings, and was harassed by abusive and prejudiced schoolboys. She also was nearly molested by a perverted exhibitionist in a car. Yolanda began to write in English and found a way to express her own voice, though she started off by imitating Walt Whitman. Her father criticized her insubordination, which Yolanda perceived to be intellectual independence. Sofia was sent to the Dominican Republic as a punishment for using marijuana, though she ended up getting into more trouble by spending time without a chaperone with her illegitimate cousin, Manuel.

In college, Yolanda had trouble relating to men, since she was turned off by the vocabulary men use to describe sex. Though she was attracted to a boy, Rudy, she would not sleep with him and he accused her of being frigid. She was hurt by this but later realized that he was just a jerk. She later married a man she thought she loved, John, though at a certain point they had problems communicating. Like Rudy, he did not understand her Dominican cultural heritage, and could not appreciate the Spanish language. When Yolanda stopped trusting and loving John, she could not understand the words he used, and only heard "babble, babble." She had a mental breakdown at her parents' house, in which she could only quote and misquote bits of things she had read and heard throughout her life. She spent time in a mental hospital until she recovered. Her sister Sandra also had a mental breakdown, in which she thought she was regressing through evolution, and would eventually cease to be human.

After Sandra is released from the hospital, Sofia planned to reconcile with her father during a birthday party. She broke tradition, in that the daughters would usually come home for their father's birthday, but she hosts the party at her house to show off her German husband and two blond children. She and her father had fought when he accused her of sleeping around during a trip to Colombia, where she met her husband, Otto. She ran away from home to assert her independence, and later married Otto. Though the party was going well, Sofia was hurt that her father did not express more affection toward her. She humiliated him with a seductive kiss in the ear as part of a party game. Yolanda returned to the Dominican Republic, possibly for good, to embrace her extended family and cultural roots. Her family thought she was crazy for driving into the countryside by herself, but she ignored them. She got lost looking for fresh guavas, and then got a flat tire. When approached by two men, she panicked and pretended not to speak any Spanish. Yolanda felt more comfortable in her English speaking American identity than with the Dominican side of her personality.

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