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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Review: ‘How the García Girls Lost Their Accents’

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Julia Alvarez author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.

Rating: 9.6/10

This article contains spoilers for the novel “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.”

Published in 1991, “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” exemplifies the experiences many immigrants moving to the United States can relate to. American poet and essayist Julia Alvarez tells the story of four Dominican-American sisters and their struggle to find their identities in a country they were not born in.

Hispanic studies professor Stephen Miller, Ph.D., said he included Alvarez’s work in the course reading list for Latino/a Literature, or HISP/ENGL 362, because he recognized the benefits of an urban setting as well as exploring a Hispanic identity besides Mexican American. 

“Part of what a classic text is; it speaks to successive generations,” Miller said. “Migration or immigration is one of the outstanding characteristics of [humanity’s] social lives.”

Coming to the United States at different ages, the girls feel varying amounts of yearning for the extended family and the life they left behind in the Dominican Republic. Being a non-white female immigrant is a meshing of identities at every step and the García girls display each facet of that struggle.

With each chapter from the perspective of a different sister — Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia — the story is narrated in reverse chronological order from the birth of the first grandbaby to childhood games. As any classic coming-of-age tale, the book uses teenage rebellion and a parent’s struggle between assimilating and being connected to their roots to exemplify the differences in the ‘immigrant experience.’

Rebelling against your parents is the quintessential teenage experience. Regardless of one’s cultural background or nationality, going against your parents’ or guardians’ wishes is an expected part of growing up. The sisters partake in these traditions in both countries and at all ages. In the United States, the girls smoke marijuana and have sex — much to their parents’ disappointment. In the Dominican Republic, they have unchaperoned dates with men and spend time reading. 

Though the differences in their so-called rebellions is a statement in and of itself, the reasoning behind each appears to vary. In the former, the sisters are exploring what it means to be an American. They see their peers engaging in behavior their parents — Carlos and Laura — disapprove of; however, they are determined to fit in. Though their parents finding out these antics always gets them in trouble, the sisters have learned what it means to be an independent woman — a luxury not available in their homeland — and are unwilling to let go of that. What started as a quest to be like other young Americans soon became a lifestyle the sisters wholeheartedly believed in. 

On the flip side of the sisters’ struggle to fit in is their parents being torn between embracing a new life in America while still being connected to their Dominican roots. On one hand, Carlos fights to make sure his daughters remain ‘pure’ and Catholic in America. He goes so far as to sneakily rifle through Sofia’s drawers in search of evidence of ‘inappropriate’ behavior. His wife, on the other hand, is determined to ensure that the girls fit into American life. 

Before dinner with the doctor responsible for Carlos’ career in America, Laura aggressively prepares the girls to behave politely and rigidly. Though Laura dislikes going from a life of luxury to a middle class existence, she works hard to make sure her family maintains a close relationship and her daughters succeed. She helps Yolanda with her poetry and her speech for the nuns at her school. She has favorite stories about each of the girls that she tells time and again. To Laura, no matter where her family is, she wants them to blend in and win. That desire, in varying degrees, is universal in immigrants.

The sisters had many difficult and horrifying experiences. Carla was bullied mercilessly by racist classmates and told to ‘return to her own country.’ Sandra had a breakdown where she believed she was regressing through evolution. Yolanda had her sexual awakening later in life, married an unappreciative man and also had a breakdown where she only spoke in quotes. 

Sofia left home to establish her independence and ended up living with and marrying a German she had met recently. Though Sofia’s story did end with a comfortable home life with her husband, Otto, and baby, her relationship with her father appeared to be irrevocably damaged as he refused to acknowledge her in any meaningful way. 

It is heartbreaking that the García de la Torre family did not succeed in any substantial financial or social manner. In the latest section written about in the book, they have not achieved the American Dream. 

My only other complaint with the novel is that it is too short. I could not get enough of the girls. To Julia Alvarez, please write a sequel.

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