How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Critical Review by Jason Zappe

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
This section contains 1,065 words
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Critical Review by Jason Zappe

SOURCE: A review of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, in The Americas Review, Vol. XIX, Nos. 3-4, Winter, 1991, pp. 150-52.

In the following review, Zappe offers a positive summation of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, stating Alvarez "shows how the tensions of successes and failures don't have to tear families apart."

When the conquistadores, the first immigrants to the New World, landed in the Caribbean they weren't forced to adopt to new ways. They retained the privileged position of conqueror and did not have to learn a new language, or a new culture or to endure endless and merciless racial abuse.

But when the Garcias, who were direct descendants of the original conquistadores, came to the United States they were forced to learn new ways. The Garcias are the central players in Julia Alvarez's novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. The family fled its home in the Dominican Republic to begin a new life in the United States and went from being part of an upper echelon to the challenging status of immigrant.

Alvarez centers on the Garcia family and its struggles to assimilate in the United States. Alvarez, like Sandra Cisneros, began as a poet before turning to fiction, and with the publication of her first book, she displays a talent for portraying the immigrant experience with sensitivity and light-heartedness. Alvarez never once allows the reader to think growing up in a foreign culture, especially the United States, is ever easy.

Alvarez's narrative explores the Garcias and how the four daughters come of age in the United States. The reader discovers the Garcia family—Papi, Mami, Yolanda, Carla, Sofia and Sandra—as the novel unfolds backward, the way a dying person might remember her life.

The Garcias come to the United States as political exiles after a failed coup attempt on the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Papi was one of the coup leaders. The Garcias are aided by a CIA agent with an affection for little girls. Alvarez makes another reference to this type of molestation when she tells of the time Carla was walking home from school in the Bronx and was accosted by a man in a car.

Alvarez's predominant theme with the context of assimilation is culture clash. It can be seen back on the Island between the young and the old, in the United States between the girls and the other kids and between the girls and their parents. Culture clash becomes the fundamental antagonist in Alvarez's story as each and every one of the Garcias must face up to it.

The reader is introduced first to Yolanda, the poet, as she returns to the Island in 1989 after a five-year absence. She confesses she would like to return forever because she never really felt at home in the States, even though she also discovers how Americanized she has become. Yolanda, who becomes Joe in the States, witnesses at once the charm of the Island and how foreign it has become to her liberated modern way of life.

As the tale of the Garcias in the new world progresses, each of the family members, mostly the girls, recount the troubles and obstacles they overcame. All four had to deal with the pressures of having Old World parents. This weighed heavily on the girls since it occurred when young people in the States were undergoing a cultural revolution. They had to balance living up to Papi's expectations and the anticipations of their new Anglo boyfriends.

All four daughters like life in the Bronx, where Papi has set up his medical practice, and all want more from this New World. Papi and Mami never thought the four girls would adapt so well or want so much from the States.

During their high school years, they discovered that most of what their Old World parents had told them was bad, turned out to be fun. Soon this new teenage life was in and "Island was old hat, man. Island was the hair-and-nails crowd, chaperons, and icky boys with all their macho strutting and unbuttoned shirts and hairy chests with gold chains and teensy gold crucifixes."

All through their school years the girls returned to the Island during the summers. Mami insisted they go, even if they did not want to, feeling she was making sure they never forgot where they had come from.

It was on the Island that they behaved as "alta sociedad" ladies did. They would behave like they had "never been to the States or read Simone de Beauvoir." When they began college, the trips back to the Island stopped.

Mostly the girls saw the trips as punishment. They truly wanted to become Americanized and forget the ways of the past. Most descendants of European immigrants have successfully adapted to life in the United States at the expense of the ways of the Old World, but today's immigrants from other lands still struggle to fuse the ways of the two. And this conflict pervades the lives of the Garcias.

All four of the Garcia girls were willing to trade the safety and tradition of the Old World for the freedoms and choices in the new. And as illicit love letters, bags of pot and birth control devices are found by Mami and Papi, it becomes apparent to them that their girls have become fully Americanized. But the assimilation process does not always rely on how radical chic one can become. In the case of Yolanda, her Americanization is realized as she wrote her ninth-grade valedictorian speech and finally sounded like herself in English.

As the girls come of age and find their own paths in their new homeland, the reader comes to understand how a family must grapple with the intricacies of assimilation in its attempts to determine its place in a new culture. The Garcias manage to stay together through all the conflicts, both inner and outer. Alvarez suggests that a family with strong devotion and love can conquer a new world and not have to disappear as the younger generation assimilates.

Alvarez speaks for many families and brings to light the challenges faced by immigrants. She shows how the tensions of successes and failures don't have to tear families apart; indeed, she suggests the opposite is possible. The Garcias pull together when trouble arrives. The family unit never breaks down in Alvarez's story even as the Garcia girls grow to be independent in a new land.

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This section contains 1,065 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jason Zappe