How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a novel by Julia Alvarez. The story is told in reverse order as it begins in 1989 and ends in 1972. By using this technique, the author allows for us, as the reader, to explore the growth of the characters, who are originally from the Dominican Republic, from a different perspective because we start getting familiar with them in America. Time is a crucial factor within the novel, not only because of how it is written but also in relation to each character’s own individual story. We experience the life of the Garcia family before they were forced to leave the Dominican Republic in the final two chapters of the book, which is also the point where we find out how wealthy they used to be. At the end, we realize how difficult it was for them to adjust to the customs of the United States, as well as how their individual identity crises were all part of forgetting their cultural heritage. Even though the sisters have become disconnected from the island, it’s the place they all come from, and that will always stay with them.
We realize how difficult it was for them to adjust to the customs of the United States, as well as how their individual identity crises were all part of forgetting their cultural heritage.
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents has various central themes. We have chosen to discuss the theme of identity, cultural conflict and also briefly address the book from a linguistic perspective in terms of having a deeper look into the meaning of language within the novel. An example of identity is when one of the sisters, Yolanda, is picking fresh guavas in the evening. She is in the countryside of the Dominican Republic when two men approach her and ask if she needs help; she is scared at first until they ask whether or not she is American. She subconsciously starts speaking English, which is ironic as her purpose for returning to her country was to assert her Dominican identity and reconnect with her heritage and cultural roots. Yolanda’s behaviour is seen as peculiar by locals, especially as she is a female who is out after dark, but the only way she can save face is by choosing to stick with her American identity. Meaning making within language is interesting to explore as each character understands it differently in terms of cultural and literary meanings. Yolanda, the poet of the family, thinks of herself as sophisticated in terms of speaking. However, her ability to make sense of the English language and specific meanings within terms also signals her mental breakdown and is a contributing factor to her breakup with her husband, John. Another sister, Sandra, has trouble making sense of the language as she to struggles to adapt, which later leads to her own breakdown. Both of these crises are examples of identity discourse and cultural conflicts, which is another theme throughout the novel.
Culture plays an essential role in the adaptation to the host country. The novel How the García girls lost Their Accents ends with the departure of the Garcia family from the Dominican Republic in 1956. As immigrants, the members of the García family experience an initial conflict between two different cultural systems and subsequently alienation from both the new world, New York, and the old world, their hometown in the Dominican Republic, which they had to leave behind. The loss of homeland, friends, family, house and clothing cannot easily be replaced. When speaking about their family, the social status of the García family is depicted by Alvarez as well. In contrast to other immigrants, the García family does not approach the United States looking for a new beginning but for a temporary shelter escaping political uncertainty under the Trujillo dictatorship. In recent years, the theme of identity has been considered among the central concepts of literary studies. The issue of bicultural identity is often a central topic of many works focusing on immigration, culture clash and adaptation into new society and culture.
The loss of homeland, friends, family, house and clothing cannot easily be replaced.
Julia Alvarez was born in New York City and raised in the Dominican Republic. The theme of being caught between two cultures is covered in writer Julia Alvarez’s poetry and fiction, including How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Her personal experiences while being brought up in American society deeply influenced her various work. She has experienced the inner struggle when searching for her own identity. This struggle can be traced back to the characters in the novel. Alvarez’s homesickness, loneliness and desire to connect with others led her to writing books. It is a way to reconnect with the culture and the past she left behind. Literature is a medium through which the author can express her opinion, experience, dream, aspiration or even political and social viewpoint. Literature can also speak through people who don’t have a chance to express themselves. For Alvarez, literature is definitely a medium to give her emotions and own identity a place, but also to make the reader aware of her struggle, and therefore a social issue.
For Alvarez, literature is definitely a medium to give her emotions and own identity a place, but also to make the reader aware of her struggle, and therefore a social issue.
As the novel was published during a period of increased immigration, from the Dominican Republic to the United States, this novel covers a lot of issues that were going on during that period of time. Julia Alvarez contributed to describing a new Dominican-American identity with her book. The protagonists of her story have a lot in common with the experience many Dominican immigrant had, as well as the experience of other Latin American immigrants, such as the difficulties they faced with language and cultural habits. This already covers a lot regarding their identity crises. However, as previously mentioned, the Garcia family did enjoy a proper financial wealth back when they lived in the Dominican Republic, which is something that is not shared by the typical Dominican immigrant. Furthermore, the story also gives an insight to the psychological difficulties faced by the Garcia family who are forced to suddenly move from one cultural context to another. Alvarez provides the reader with a prime example of a family who has the ability and will to suddenly integrate into a foreign country and culture, but one which also wants to retain the connection to their home nation. The reader gets to experience in why this gets problematic for the Garcia family, and we can identify the two mental breakdowns of Sandra and Yolanda as examples of these difficulties.
Alvarez, J. (2013). How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. New York: Algonquin Books.
Kuptíková, K. (2012). Bicultural Identity in Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Pardubice: University of Pardubice.