“How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” is a novella by Julia Alvarez that details the struggles of a Dominican-American family while settling into New York. Alvarez explains the story of the family through a series of flashbacks in the novel. These flashbacks make it easier for us to observe the evolution of the Garcia Girls from the beginning of the novel to the end. The sisters Carla, Sandi, Yolanda, and Sofia have all been through difficult experiences such as the bullying, sexual assault, immigration, and cultural issues. The four sisters do attempt to get rid of their distant past in the Dominican Republic in order to move but do not succeed.
The story begins with the third daughter named Yolanda. Yolanda returns to the Dominican Public after being away for five years. The transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States had not been easy for her as she struggled for a while. But she realized after returning to her hometown in the Dominican Republic that her native language vocabulary had also suffered as a result of living in the U.S. In addition, she would, at times, struggle not to speak English because the English language had become a second nature to her. Thus, it was not uncommon for her to mix up words from two languages. Yolanda considers herself a poet. She translates her life experiences into words and put them on the paper. Her writing helps her cope with the challenges that come from cultural transitions.
All four girls moved from the violence-stricken Dominican Republic to a crowded and non-Hispanic New York. The cultural shock doesn’t only impact the girls physically but also mentally. The Latin culture is not yet widely understood in America which makes the adjustment into a new environment quite a challenge. One of the major challenges was to find a balance between old culture and new lifestyle. We are reminded throughout the novel that the family wants to preserve its cultural identity and doesn’t forget where it came from.
Culture is an important theme in this novel. The four girls loyal to their culture in the beginning but do engage in cultural transition once they have moved to the US. But the new cultural values do put some pressure on the girls. They all make efforts on individual level to adjust in America and adopt local social lifestyle and fashion trends. For example, they change their hairstyle and try to modify their strong Latin accent to “fit in.” Inevitably, they cannot completely get rid of old cultural values and are forced to find a delicate balance between the two cultures to accommodate some values of each culture.
Yolanda wholeheartedly embraces the English language. She loved writing and was considered the family poet. When Yolanda goes through romantic struggles, it also leads to language struggles, “Babble, Babble.” When her spouse spoke, all she could hear were mumbles. I believe this experience was a reflection of the fact she never succeeded in completely breaking off from her roots. Her original cultural roots had become an essential element of her existence. As much as she tried to leave her native language behind, unpleasant experiences would take her back to the days spent in the Dominican Republic.