How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary and Analysis of "Antojos"

This chapter, focused on Yolanda, tells of her arrival in the Dominican Republic from the United States. She has not been back to the Island in five years and is greeted with excitement by her aunts and cousins at Tía Carmen’s house. The aunts recount recent stories and complain that the hired help is increasingly unreliable. Yolanda updates them about her sisters, and she is prompted to speak in Spanish when she slips into English. She thinks to herself that she may not return to the United States, but keeps this thought a secret.

Tía Carmen asks if she has any little antojo, an old Spanish word referring to a whim or craving that seizes someone when he is taken over by a santo (saint). Yolanda does not recognize the word, so the aunts call on an elderly servant, Altagracia, to explain. Yolanda says she craves freshly picked guavas, and suggests she might pick some when she goes north in a few days. The family disputes the safety of her plan to drive a car into the interior given the political situation, and decide a Datsun will attract less attention than a Volvo. They discuss the possibility of guerillas in the mountains, while a private guard walks by their own compound. Then they light the candles on Yolanda’s welcome cake and, as she bends to blow them out, Yolanda wishes that the Island would remain her home.

The second half of the chapter follows Yolanda on her trip north to Altamira, where she is visiting the estate of her wealthy relatives the Mirandas. On the way, she stops at a cantina run by an old woman and her young son, José Duarte, Sánchez y Mella, named after the country’s three liberators. José and his friends offer to bring Yolanda guavas, but she wants to pick them herself, so she drives the boys to the guava grove. There, Yolanda and José wander away to pick fruit, and it grows late as they find their way back. Her aunt’s warnings about the dangers of the interior begin to grow in Yolanda’s mind, intensifying when she discovers that her car has a flat tire.

While José runs to the Miranda mansion for help, Yolanda sees two laborers emerge onto the road with machetes hanging from their belts. Terrified and seemingly paralyzed, Yolanda is unable to answer their questions. Then, one suggests she is American and speaks no Spanish. Yolanda bursts into a stream of rapid English, of which the men only understand the name “Miranda.” It is not clear whether the men meant Yolanda any harm, but the name "Miranda" acts as a charm and they suddenly seem benign toward her. They fix her flat tire for her, refusing her offered payment until she simply stuffs the bills into one’s pocket. When she drives away, she meets a crying José coming back from the Miranda house, where the guard accused the boy of lying and hit him.


The chapter focuses on the socio-economic disparity Yolanda sees in the Dominican Republic and the ways in which her status as part of a wealthy family and as an American-bred girl affect her relations with her family and people she encounters on the Island. To her, many Dominicans seem like prisoners trapped in their rigid social hierarchy. While visiting her wealthy relatives the Mirandas, she uses a simile to compare the guard in the enclosed estate to “a man locked in a strangely gorgeous prison” (14). The guard later hits José, not believing that a Dominican woman wealthy enough to own a car would be out picking guavas. This rigid set of expectations for how people of certain classes behave forms part of the structure that perpetuates strict division between classes.

Yolanda falls into this way of thinking as well when she meets the two laborers on the road. She assumes they mean to harm her and is petrified with fear. When they first appear, the description of them is short and clipped, with direct, simple sentences, such as “Machetes hang from their belts” (19). The terse style indicates how Yolanda, in her fright, sees the men. She notices aspects of them that suggest strength or violence and therefore indicate ways they might hurt her.

When the men mistake her for an American and hear the name of her wealthy hosts, they are described as becoming “docile” (20), as though they are wild creatures that can be tamed only by those they believe hold higher social status than themselves. They become embarrassed by their rough, dirty hands, and Yolanda observes that they assume the same pose of looking at the ground that the servant Iluminada and young José do. This shared gesture unites many members of the lower classes Yolanda has encountered, and marks how universal the mindset of obedience and hierarchy is in the country.

Yolanda, as an outsider to the country, observes this and other gestures with interest. She has not learned the cultural cues that teach her what different types of body language mean, and so sees their gestures with detachment. She compares the body language of her family and her servants to those she has seen in a book for Renaissance actors, indicating that Dominican social behavior is as distant from her own life as centuries’ old acting conventions.

The most vivid indication of how strange Yolanda feels in the country, though, is her impression of the poster for Palmolive soap outside the cantina at Altamira. Yolanda recognizes that the billboard communicates nothing about soap, but conveys a cultural message instead. The sensual blond woman who seems to cry out in wordless ecstasy suggests how American culture is seen as sexualized and desirable to Dominicans. When Yolanda sees the billboard at the end of the chapter, she describes the woman as “calling someone over a great distance” (23), no longer sexy but still trying to catch someone’s attention. Metaphorically, the “great distance” could be the cultural gap between the Dominican Republic and the United States, where the woman comes from. The woman is exotic to Dominicans, and her wordless cry implies a lack of true reciprocity in the cultural exchange between Dominicans and Americans. Each side holds stereotyped visions of the other, since the cultures are radically different, and use their own largely incompatible standards to judge each other. For Yolanda, the poster thus becomes a symbol of the failed cultural exchange, and of the difficulties she will have acclimating herself to the life she hopes to lead in the Dominican Republic.