Laura, wife to Carlos García, is the mother of the four García sisters. She is the eldest daughter of the de la Torre family, one of the most wealthy and prestigious families on the Island. Her father, called "Papito" by his grandchildren, was given a bogus post at the U.N. by the dictator Trujillo, who felt threatened by his wealth and education. She attended a preparatory high school in the United States, and she prides herself on her good English and American values. Although socially very conservative, she supports her daughters' aspirations to become Americanized, professional women. However, she has difficulty coming to terms with their liberated sexuality when they are adolescents, and scolds them about using swear words even after they are adults. Above all she is an inveterate storyteller who loves to repeat (and often mistakenly alters) favorite stories about her daughters and family. Her tendency to relate long, detailed narratives parallels the novel's episodic structure and creates a communal history that binds the family together.
Carlos García (Papi)
Carlos is married to Laura de la Torre and is the father of the four García sisters. He is the youngest of his father's 35 (or more) children, 25 of whom are legitimate. Carlos joins his brothers-in-law and a CIA operative, Victor Hubbard, in an unsuccessful coup to overthrow the Dominican dictator Trujillo. Although never captured or imprisoned, he is constantly under suspicion by the guardia, the secret police of the Island. Eventually he flees with his family to New York, and as news of the political situation back home worsens, he settles in as an American resident. He is a well-respected doctor and opens a successful medical practice in the Bronx. Although he seems to regret having no sons, he likes to say, "Good bulls sire cows," and he is a devoted father to his daughters. However, his social conservatism and patriarchal convictions contribute to considerable strife between himself and his Americanized, feminist daughters.
The eldest of the four sisters, Carla was around 12 when the family moved to the United States, and had great difficulty adjusting to the new country. Her disturbing experience of going through puberty in an alien—and sometimes hostile—culture may have contributed to her decision to become a child psychologist. She is married to the analyst she began seeing when her first marriage fell apart, and often speaks to him in psychology jargon that irritates her younger sisters.
Sandra García (Sandi)
The second eldest sister, Sandra, is fair-haired, light-skinned, and blue-eyed, traits she inherited from a Swedish ancestor, and which distinguish her in the family. A keen observer of power dynamics, she recognizes her beauty as a tool that will gain her acceptance in American culture. However, she is a deeply dissatisfied person, haunted by a gnawing emptiness that cannot be filled by beauty, lovers, scholarship awards, or work. She becomes obsessed with weight loss and suffers a nervous breakdown in graduate school, for which she is temporarily committed to a private mental hospital.
Yolanda García (Yo, Yoyo, Joe)
Yolanda, the third daughter, is a teacher by profession but a poet at heart. She narrates much of the novel, including the opening and closing chapters, and is sensitive to the power and sound of language. She explores the materiality of words, often speaking in rhyme and using surreal images, and defines her romantic relationships based on her partner's relationship to language. She has a nervous breakdown during her first marriage and is committed to a private mental hospital where she suffers an "allergic reaction" to words like "love" and "alive." Her stories are often attempts to understand what fears, desires and personality traits have caused her romantic relationships to fail.
Sofía García (Fifi)
Known as the "maverick" of the family, the youngest daughter Sofía drops out of college and is the only girl without an advanced degree. She runs away from home to elope with her husband, a German chemist named Otto whom she met on the street in Colombia. Despite her rebellious, apparently aimless youth, she is the only daughter with children, no divorces, and a healthy family life when the novel opens. The family considers her the most fiercely independent of the four girls.
Dr. and Mrs. Fanning are a wealthy American couple who arrange Carlos García's fellowship at an American hospital in order to get the family safely out of the Dominican Republic. Dr. Fanning is a famous surgeon who visited the Dominican Republic to teach new heart surgery procedures to the country’s prominent doctors. His wife Sylvia is a lively, somewhat crass woman who makes a suggestive overture to Carlos.
Manuel Gustavo is the illegitimate son of Tío Orlando, one of Carlos's brothers. Tío Orlando hides the infidelity from his wife by passing Manuel off as the son of Tío Ignacio, a bachelor whom the family suspects is homosexual. Manuel and Sofía date during the year Sofía spends in the Dominican Republic. Sofía is devoted to him, but her sisters find him repulsively macho, misogynist and willfully ignorant. He tries to control Sofía's clothing and appearance, reading material, and so on. Worse, he refuses to wear condoms, which he believes cause infertility. Sofía's sisters fear that she will become pregnant and be forced to marry him, so they plot to break up the relationship.
An American from Indiana and a pedophile, Victor Hubbard attended Yale with Tío Mundo before joining the CIA. His position of American consul in the Dominican Republic is a front for his mission to overthrow the dictator Trujillo. When the U.S. State Department withdraws its support from the failed coup, Victor dedicates himself to getting all of the conspirators out of the country safely, including Carlos García.
Papito and Mamita
Laura's parents, called Papito and Mamita by their children and grandchildren, are the oldest living de la Torres. Their full names are Don Edmundo Antonio de la Torre and Doña Yolanda Laura María Rochet de la Torre. Papito holds a bogus post at the United Nations that requires him to visit New York often. The dictator Trujillo conferred the post on him to keep him out of the country, considering his wealth and education a threat to the regime. However, Papito is a peaceable and quiet man, often dominated by his demanding wife, a once-beautiful woman who has become an anxious and self-involved hypochondriac in her old age.
Chucha, a Haitian woman who practices voodoo, has served the de la Torre family since before Laura's birth. She appeared one night on Papito and Mamita's doorstep begging asylum after having escaped a massacre of Haitians ordered by Trujillo. The other servants fear her and the spirits she claims to summon, so she has her own room in the house, where she sleeps in her coffin to prepare herself for death. She is left to tend the vacant house after the Garcías flee the Island for the United States.
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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a novel by Julia Alvarez. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents study guide contains a biography of Julia Alvarez, 100 quiz questions, a list of major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.