This chapter, set three months after the family has immigrated to the States, tells the story of an outing with Dr. and Mrs. Fanning, a wealthy American couple that helped arrange Carlos's fellowship at an American hospital in order to get the family safely out of the Dominican Republic. Dr. Fanning had visited the Garcías on the Island before, to teach the country's leading doctors new procedures for heart surgery, and is now helping Carlos find a new job. Carlos cannot yet get an American doctor’s license because of his foreign education, and is worried about the situation at home, where Tío Mundo is jailed and Tío Fidelio may be dead.
The Garcías' three months in New York has been made unpleasant by Carlos's worry about his family and his job at the hospital, and by "La Bruja," an elderly woman who lives below them and hurls racist slurs at the family. The Fannings have invited the García family out to El Flamenco, a fancy Spanish restaurant, where there will be a floor show of live flamenco dancing. Carlos splurges on the family, taking a taxi to the restaurant where they order drinks. Laura reminds Carlos that the Fannings are paying, causing him some discomfort.
When the Fannings arrive, Dr. Fanning suggests a job he found—a house doctor for wealthy women, unrewarding but lucrative work. As dinner continues, Sandra flirts with a handsome waiter who continually fills her water glass, until she has to use the bathroom. Her father and Mrs. Fanning go with her, and as they are about to enter their respective bathrooms, the drunk Mrs. Fanning leans in to kiss Carlos. Sandra is confused and upset by the incident, which offers a frightening glimpse of the world of sexuality she is only just starting to enter. While waiting for the adults, Sandra looks in the mirror and recognizes that she is pretty, an advantage she realizes will help her survive in this new, hostile country.
Dinner soon arrives, but Sandra finds most of the food inedible, and dedicates her time to observing the adults. Then flamenco dancing begins, and Sandra is mesmerized by the beauty and passion of the dancers, which she identifies as a Spanish quality that she too has inherited. Suddenly Mrs. Fanning runs up onstage and dances with the performers, much to the discomfort of her husband.
At the end of dinner, a salesgirl comes by with Barbies to sell. Sandra wants one that resembles the beautiful flamenco dancers onstage, and feeling vengeful towards Mrs. Fanning, loudly asserts that she wants a doll. The Fannings are happy to buy dolls for all four girls, who nevertheless receive angry glances from their mother. When asked to thank Mrs. Fanning for the doll, Sandra stands the Barbie on the table and mimes her kissing Mrs. Fanning on the cheek, saying “Gracías” so she will be true to her Spanish roots.
Sandra is just beginning to come to terms with herself as an individual and an adult. Throughout the chapter, distinction is made between the girls’ world and that of the adults, whose conversation is obscure and dull, and whose motives are inexplicable. However, Sandra observes everything keenly, including herself. She notices that she is pretty, and realizes this beauty will be her ticket to success in a new country where the Garcías are abused by prejudiced Americans. She realizes that beauty is a universal language, and personifies it as an agent that will help her, thinking, “pretty spoke both languages” (182).
The statement also reveals Sandra’s awareness of the vital role language plays in social acceptance. The Garcías’ bigoted neighbor, “La Bruja,” had complained to the apartment building manager about the loud, foreign language the family speaks. Sandra discovers that language and good looks are both keys to social power. Another influential tool, also an underlying theme of the chapter, is money. Sandra does not realize the humiliation she causes her family by demanding the doll, which the Garcías cannot afford but are embarrassed to refuse. However, she knows that “Spanish” is validated by the fact that so many Americans are willing to pay to eat Spanish food and see Spanish entertainment at El Flamenco. Although her obsession with social status and physical appearance seems superficial, Sandra has identified the very real, inescapable power dynamics that direct social life.
In a similar situation, Carla wishes she could reject the sexuality that contributes to her isolation at school. Sandra, by contrast, embraces sexuality and her Spanish heritage as attributes that can give her power. She feels that she is entering the sexual world through her native language and heritage, and seeks a specifically Spanish sensuality. The passion of the flamenco dancers confirms her sense that sensuality inheres in Spanish culture, and that it is driven by a hidden, adult knowledge in which she wants to partake. She identifies strongly with the Barbie dressed as a flamenco dancer, which represents to her the passionate spark and hidden power of the Spanish sensuality, which she hopes she will soon possess.