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Critical Analysis of "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" by Julia Alvarez

Updated on February 21, 2013
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Did you know that between the years of 1980 and 2000, the Dominican Republic was the second largest source nation for immigration to the United States in the Western Hemisphere (“Encyclopedia of Immigration”)? In her book, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez tells the story of a family from the Dominican Republic that migrates to the United States, although the Garcia girls didn’t share in some of the more typical immigrant experiences due to their wealth from back home. Despite their atypical background, the Garcia girls served to show the struggles of Dominican immigrants in the United States. The novel, which takes readers through a time-reversing journey of the immigrant family, shows the difficulties they faced with the differences between American and Dominican cultures. Past that, the parents and daughters also struggle to assimilate into American culture without losing the culture they were born into. Finally, the story dives past the surface of struggles pertaining specifically to Dominican immigrants, and shows readers the troubles and experiences the girls faced as they grew up, matured, and began shaping the adults we saw in the beginning of the novel. The story of the Garcia girls depicts the effects stemming from a clash of two strong cultures as they fight for dominance in the heart and minds of four sisters.

The differences between American and Dominican culture were, at times, almost too much to handle for the family. When Papi returned from the island saying “I am given up, Mami. There is no hope for the island. I will become un domincan-york”, the lives of the girls had changed forever (Alvarez 107). It was interesting to see how quickly after that things started going awry. The girls began exploring their new American culture, and every step they took toward American ways made Mami or Papi upset. For example, Sandi’s experimentation with Tampax was appalling to Mami, who soon sent them away to all-girls boarding schools. The parents wanted nothing more than for the girls to marry “homeland boys, since everyone knew that once a girl married an American, those grandbabies came out jabbering in English and thinking of the Island as a place to go get a suntan” (109). Even though a lighter skin color would help the children fit in better in the United States, it also meant further alienation from the Dominican Republic. In the section entitled The Rudy Elmenhurst Story, Yolanda reflects that, after Rudy says “I’m not going to fucking rape you!” her father would have never stood for that language, especially not in the presence of one of his daughters (96). As anyone can see, there are immense differences between cultures.

Due to the differences in culture assimilation became quite an issue as well. The girls, being so young, were much more susceptible to influences from the American culture, while their parents (especially Papi) were much more steadfast in Dominican values. As the girls began assimilating, they got into more and more trouble for their increasingly American ways. Fifi got in trouble for smoking, and Carla was in trouble for using hair-removal cream. Yolanda was on the hot seat for bringing a book on the female body into the house, and Sandi was reprimanded for not being back from a ‘study session’ by the next morning (110-111). All these things are anything but abnormal to a life-long resident of the United States, but they were direct violations of the Garcia family’s roots and values. The girls, however, were not the only ones with assimilation problems. Like her daughters, Mami wanted to play a role in her new home; she was very unsatisfied with her recent transition from practically Dominican royalty to and American middle-class housewife. Laura begins inventing new, household gadgets, though she receives no support from her family. Her ideas like the picnicker’s can opener on the car bumper never came to be, and she settled for simply supporting her daughters in their endeavors.

Although the main focus of Alvarez’s novel is clearly on the fact that these girls are Dominican, she also includes the aspects of their childhood. The stories of the girls as children, unlike the rest of the book, didn’t focus on their ethnicity and how that set them apart, probably because at that point they were still in the Dominican Republic. Because these stories don’t alienate the girls from their society, as the stories of the girls in the U.S. did, the stories are more relatable to all readers. Perhaps this was done purposefully, to show readers that although they are from both wealth and a foreign country, there are still similarities between our cultures, and there are ways in which they are not so different from the rest of us. Yolanda’s story about the kitten and the drum show how she was not so different than any other spoiled child that saw something she wanted, and got it. Even though the man told her “To take it away would be a violation of its natural right to live”, Yolanda wanted the cat, so she took it. Did this act reflect her ethnicity as Dominican? No. Did this reflect her as a child who has poor judgment, immature tendencies, and makes mistakes? Yes. Alvarez clearly wanted to show her readers that, although these girls are Dominican and come from wealth, they are just like us in some ways.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is an incredibly interesting novel that showers readers with cultural insight whether they realize it or not. The clash of Dominican and American cultures as it is portrayed in Alvarez’s work of literature helps explain why Dominican immigrants have had a hard time assimilating into “American” culture. Since the two cultures are both so bold and so different, it’s no simple task for them to mesh together. The family’s struggle with cultural differences, assimilation, and the sister’s memories of growing up in the Dominican Republic come together well to tell the full story of immigrants and the obstacles they face.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2010. Print.

"Dominican Immigration." Encyclopedia of Immigration. N.p., 10 2011. Web. 15 Oct 2012. <http://immigration-online.org/87-dominican-immigration.html>.

Images:

How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. N.d. AmazonWeb. 8 Dec 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/Garcia-Girls-Lost-Their-Accents/dp/156512975X>.

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