How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

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

This chapter begins by describing Laura García’s attempts at inventing improved household devices when the family first moved to New York. She would take the four girls to department stores and listen to lengthy sales pitches for household conveniences, then go home and sketch out improvements. After reading in the New York Times that someone has just patented a rolling suitcase, an idea she had envisioned but never acted on, she decides to stop inventing. Instead, she helps clean and keep accounts for Carlos’s successful Centro de Medicina in the Bronx.

As the girls enter high school, Laura feels increasingly comfortable in the United States, while her husband begins to dream of moving back to the Dominican Republic. Trujillo’s dictatorship had just been toppled and the interim government plans to hold the first free elections in thirty years. Like her mother, Yolanda has also begun to settle into America, and she explores the English language in poems and personal compositions that catch the attention of the Catholic nuns who teach at her school.

In ninth grade, she is asked to write a speech for the Teacher’s Day address. Nervous at the thought of her accented English and at the teasing she will endure from her peers from praising the teachers at the assembly, Yolanda is paralyzed and cannot write. Finally, the night before the assembly, she is inspired by Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and writes an irreverent speech declaring that the best student learns to destroy the teacher. When her father hears the speech, he becomes incensed at its disrespectful message and tears it to pieces. Yolanda, in fury, accuses him of being another “Chapita,” Trujillo’s hated nickname. She then flees to her room and locks the door against her furious father. The locks on their bedroom doors had been her mother’s idea, and for the first time Yolanda praises her mother’s ingenuity.

Soon after, her mother comes to her room and helps her to write a trite speech praising the teachers, which earns Yolanda a standing ovation the following day. That night, she hides in her room when her father returns home. Eventually, as he calls up to her in apology and remorse, she comes downstairs to find that her father has bought her a fancy new typewriter tricked out with more gadgets than even her mother could have imagined. Yoyo thinks of the speech her mother helped to write as her mother’s last invention, as though her mother were passing the torch of innovation and creativity onto her daughter.


In this chapter, Laura García's inventions and Yolanda's writing mark their growing Americanization and independence from the Dominican tradition of female obedience and passivity.

The chapter's allusion to Walt Whitman highlights the American celebration of revolution and innovation that smashes the older generations' values. This cultural ideal is anathema to Dominican society, which is based on rigid hierarchies established by differences in gender and caste, and determined by birth. Laura's surname "de la Torre," for instance, received instant recognition and preferential treatment on the Island due to her family's prestige. In the United States, however, she must prove her worth on her own, and so is inspired to begin inventing and finding resourceful ways to use her energy. The loss of predetermined social status frees Laura to pursue personal growth, and Laura begins to feel that it’s better to be an "independent nobody than a high-class houseslave" (144).

When Carlos asserts his adherence to the Dominican patriarchy by tearing up the Whitman-inspired speech, he becomes an oppressive authoritarian figure to Yolanda. Though the comparison of her father to "Chapita" (Trujillo) is wild exaggeration, it establishes the idea that private patriarchy is an insidious extension of political despotism. Ironically, Carlos is excited by the promise of American-style democracy in the Dominican Republic, yet cannot brook divergent viewpoints in his own family. Carlos is apparently disturbed by the suggestion that he could become, in his personal life, the very thing he opposed in the political sphere. The next day he buys Yolanda a new typewriter and explains that he only wants to protect her. This paternalistic protection, however, may be only a gentler form of the same masculine urge to control.

At the end of the chapter, Yolanda compares her mother's help writing the trite, pleasant speech she delivers to the passing on of the "pencil and pad" (149) on which Laura had invented devices. The pencil and pad becomes a metonym for female ingenuity and resourcefulness. It represents the ways that Laura, Yolanda, and all the girls rise to the challenge—and opportunity—offered by American freedom and emphasis on individual achievement.