How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary and Analysis of "The Blood of the Conquistadores"

This chapter tells the story of the García family’s final day on the Island. Carlos, in the kitchen, sees two thugs from the secret police approaching the house. He hides in a secret room he and Mundo built to the specifications of Victor Hubbard, a CIA agent acting as the American consul. The two men ask the García girls questions while waiting for Laura to arrive, and one makes a thinly veiled sexual suggestion to young Sofía. When Laura arrives, she sends a message with a servant using the secret code word, “tennis shoes,” to bring Victor Hubbard to the house. She reminisces about Victor’s plot to overthrow Trujillo, from which the U.S. State Department had withdrawn support at the last minute. Though Victor promised to get all of the men involved safely out of the country (including Carlos), Laura recalls that one conspirator, Fernando, had hung himself in his jail cell to keep from giving the others away under torture. Laura tells the men that her husband is out playing a game of tennis with Victor Hubbard, and offers them beer and snacks, putting on a “grand manner” in the hopes of disarming them.

The scene shifts to El Paraíso, a whorehouse, where the madam, Doña Tatica, receives a telephone call asking for Victor Hubbard. Hubbard, a CIA operative with a foul mouth and a pedophilic appetite for young girls, muses on his time in the Dominican Republic while he prepares to visit the García household and prevent the guardia from finding Carlos. Laura, terrified she is going to say something she shouldn’t, is hugely relieved when Victor shows up. Victor announces to the men that Carlos García has received a fellowship at a hospital in the United States, and that the family’s papers have received clearance from the head of Immigration, information that is new to Laura.

Briefly the perspective switches to that of Pupo, who thinks back on a warning he had heard from the man selling lottery tickets that morning, who said “The hand of God descends and some are lifted up, but some…are cast away.” Pupo’s recollections reveal that he and Checo had been ordered to report on Carlos’ activity, but that the idea to search the house had been Checo’s. Pupo suspects that the nervous Laura might be hiding something, and he anticipates uncovering a secret and earning a promotion. When Victor Hubbard arrives, however, he begins to fear that Checo’s idea to search the house was a mistake for which they will both be whipped. Victor calls their supervisor, Don Fabio, and explains that Carlos will be leaving the country in forty-eight hours.

After the men leave, Laura orders her daughters to pack their best clothes and one toy they want to take to the United States. Sandra can think of no toy that means anything to her, and the narration skips ahead many years to comment that nothing—not beauty, scholarships or boyfriends—would fill the blind need which most people try to satisfy with beauty, work, food or sex.

The narration shifts to Carlos, who has been listening to his wife’s high-pitched, nervous voice from the secret room over the bathroom. He worries that Laura may break down under the situation’s pressure. As he listens, he thinks about his childhood as the youngest of his father’s 35 children. After the men leave, Carlos is relieved to hear Laura’s breathing close to him from the other side of a removable panel.

Sofía narrates the next section in first person, explaining that she was too young to remember much from their last day on the Island. However, she remembers the elderly Haitian maid, Chucha. Chucha had appeared at Papito’s doorstep one night, begging for asylum after having narrowly escaped a massacre of Haitians ordered by Trujillo. While the girls are packing to leave for the States, Chucha brings a small wooden idol to them, explaining that it was the only thing she brought from Haiti when she left. She places a cup on its head filled with water that begins to evaporate and run down the statue like tears. Then she wails a prayer over each daughter, causing them to begin crying too.

The final section of this chapter is narrated by Chucha after the family has left for their flight to the States. She has been left with another servant, Chino, to tend the empty house, which she anticipates will be looted by the secret police once she dies. She predicts many tears for the family in their new country filled with people as pale as zombies. However, she also has faith in the creativity and resilience of the girls, who she thinks will adapt to their new home. After chasing bad spirits from the house, she climbs into her coffin, where she sleeps, and pulls the lid closed for a few minutes in her nightly ritual meant to prepare her for her actual burial.


This chapter captures a wide range of Dominican voices, from the police thug Pupo, to the Haitian maid Chucha, to the madam of a brother. The reader even hears the thoughts of the pedophilic CIA agent Victor Hubbard. This narrative strategy allows the reader to see characters from other people’s perspectives and so gain a fuller vision of them than an interior monologue can offer. It also emphasizes that a complete understanding of any individual is impossible.

Each person has his or her own interpretation of the dramatic events that unfold on the day the Garcías escape the SIM. By shifting rapidly between perspectives, the chapter reminds us how fragmented and multiple a single event can be. Each person receives a different impression or finds a peculiar meaning in what they observer. The young girls, for instance, misinterpret much of what the SIM men say, associating their comments with recent events in the girls’ own lives. Laura and the men also have very different perceptions on their conversation before Victor arrives, while Carlos, in hiding, hears only sounds that he interprets by their tone.

Laura notes the sexual suggestion of the men’s guns, implicitly linking the culture of machismo with the violence of Trujillo’s military dictatorship. She relies on her high social status to intimidate the two SIM, whose backgrounds she correctly guesses to be poor and rural. The sexualized violence of their guns defines the machismo of the men, who want to enjoy creature comforts while exerting power through intimidation. However, Laura believes that they adopt a swaggering attitude to cover their ingrained subservience to members of the upper classes. The rigid Dominican class system relies so heavily on a culture of obedience that even semi-trained government agents, when encountering signals of high social rank, will revert to the behavior of the class they were born into.

The various sections are narrated in different tenses and from different vantages. Some portions of the chapter, such as Victor’s section, are narrated in the present tense, creating sense of immediacy and heightened tension. Other sections are told in retrospect, either in first or third person. Sandra’s section, for instance, interprets Sandra’s inability to choose a favorite toy as derived from the same unsatisfied inner need that would later drive her towards a mental breakdown. Nothing she has satisfies her fully. This passage is one of the few instances in the novel in which the narrator draws an explicit connection between a childhood event and developments later in life. The purpose of reverse chronology is especially evident here, and the reader is brought to understand that the stories are told not simply to narrate the girls’ lives, but to discover the underlying causes of seemingly inexplicable changes, personality traits, or decisions.

Chucha’s final section, in first person and present tense, renders the events she witnesses with great immediacy. However, her way of seeing and words derived from voodoo also make parts difficult to interpret. For instance, she reports seeing loa of Carlos leave through the back door, but it is not clear whether this was Carlos himself or a vision. She interacts with spirits that no one else sees, and sees the world through the lens of her beliefs. Her section demonstrates vividly how differently a room or an object can look to two individuals.