How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Background and historical context

The years between 1956 and 1970 were a period of oppression and instability in the Dominican Republic as the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo came to an end with his assassination in 1961, only to be followed by military rule, revolution, intervention by the United States, and further dictatorship. Central control over the military, the economy, and the people meant that only a select few were allowed to leave the island.[1] Critic William Luis describes the situation of immigrants from the Dominican Republic to the United States during the revolution: "The displacement of Caribbean people from their islands to the United States, for political or economical reasons, has produced a tension between the culture of the country of origin and that of the adopted homeland, one representing the past and the other future of the immigrant".[1]

The García family is an example of this phenomenon. In How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez succeeds in altering the events of her own life to create fiction.[2] The family is displaced to the United States after living an established, upper-class life in the Dominican Republic, and is forced to face the challenges which come along with being an immigrant family in a foreign land. Julia Alvarez herself was not born in the Dominican Republic, but in the United States. After her parents' failed attempt at a life in America, she returned to the Dominican Republic at the age of three months as her parents preferred the dictatorship of Trujillo to the US. Clearly in the novel, this is not the case, however throughout, the reader witnesses the Garcia family assimilate into American society. Although their Hispanic roots are reflected in their personalities, it is evident that the stories which focus on the four daughters depict many problems that normal North American girls do.[3]

Even though How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was written in the United States, there are significant historical ties between the novel and the author’s country of origin. Alvarez wrote an essay entitled "An American Childhood in the Dominican Republic", in which she reveals some information about her own life. This is evidence that it may have served as the basis for the novel. For example, she mentions that it was Mr. Victor, of the US embassy and a member of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who persuaded Carlos García to join the resistance against Trujillo, and later helped him in leaving the country, and obtaining a job with an international cardiovascular team.[3] This is a parallel to the novel in which Carlos Garcia obtains work as a doctor in New York. Julia Alvarez emigrated to the United States at the age of 10 with her parents and three sisters as political refugees from the Dominican Republic. The novel is a variation of her real-life experiences, which have perhaps been slightly altered. The majority of her literature is constructed from multiple viewpoints and a strongly concealed political undercurrent is present in her literature.[4] In this case, that undercurrent is her family fleeing the Trujillo revolution, something she did as a child. The novel encompasses the impact living under a regime can have on a family, and the way it shaped the four girls' upbringing. It is also an attempt to understand memory, the past, and a time before the sisters lost their innocence and accents.[5]

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