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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
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.
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents!