Andrew Sztehlo February 12, 2010

English 9 Ms. Stuart

Americanization in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, written by Julia Alvarez, tells the story of four sisters in the García family. They move from the Dominican Republic because of the dictatorship and settle down in America. Each girl is Americanized, and this in turn helps them develop an individual identity. Yolanda becomes more relaxed in her physical appearance, but develops her identity by disapproving of nicknames; Sofía flaunts her sexuality in front of her parents as an act of rebellion; Sandra takes refuge in the American lifestyle to deal with her loss of art; and Carla is bullied by the Americans, which in turn inspires her to become a child psychologist. Yolanda becomes more relaxed in her physical appearance and her attire as a result of her Americanization. When she was a child and was under the influence of her parents, she was told what to wear, but as soon as possible, she begins to wear her own clothes and look the way she wants to. When she returns to the Dominican Republic as an adult, she comments “Before anyone has turned to greet her in the entryway, Yolanda sees herself as they will, shabby in a black cotton shirt and jersey top, sandals on her feet, her wild black hair held back with a hairband” (3). This shows that she has changed because of her Americanization- before, she was expected to wear rich and evocative clothes, but now she wears what she feels comfortable in, which is suited to the American lifestyle. This Americanization has also helped her to develop her identity, and so she feels more comfortable stepping forward to stand up for herself. Yolanda develops her identity by disapproving of her nicknames that people come up with. When her mother is talking to her boyfriend, she notes “’That’s her nickname, Yo, Yoyo,’ the mother

explained. ‘She complains she wants her name, but you have to take shortcuts when there’s four of them. Four girls, imagine!’… ‘Really?’ the lover said, although Yolanda had already filled him in on her family and her bastardized name- Yo, Joe, Yoyo. He knew better than to take shortcuts. Jo-laahn-dah, she had drilled into him” (47). This shows that she has been Americanized, and therefore is freer speaking. She decides that she wants to retain her original name, as it indicates to her- but when she is called one of her nicknames, it indicates to her American identity. Yolanda is unwilling to accept this, and that is one of the reasons she goes back to the Dominican Republic in the first chapter. However, Sofía is an entirely different case. Sofía becomes freer speaking because of her Americanization, and because of this is able to flaunt her sexuality in front of her parents as an act of rebellion. The grandmother even admits this, when she says that the family does not believe in too much freedom. Sofía had a falling out with her father because she had fallen in love with a German man, and eloped with him. This has caused a strain on their relationship which has never quite healed. When playing a game in which the father had to guess who had just touched him, “she noticed that he never guessed her name. After all her hard work, she was not to be included in his daughter count. Damn him! She’d take her turn and make him know it was her!... Quickly, she swooped into the circle and gave the old man a wet, open-mouthed kiss in his ear. She ran her tongue in the whorls of his ear and nibbled the tip… His face had darkened with shame at having his pleasure aroused in public by one of his daughters. He looked from one to the other. His gaze faltered. On the face of his youngest was the brilliant, impassive look he remembered from when she had snatched her love letters out of his hands” (39). Because her father had refused to

recognize her, she made sure to flaunt her sexuality in front of him. This is improper, as the family is very conservative, and thinks that something like that lies in an American life style, which she has adopted. However, this is also how she develops her independence. She differentiates herself from the sisters by her over-the-top sexuality. Alvarez states that “Among the four sisters, she was considered the plain one, with her tall, big-boned body and large-featured face. And yet, she was the one with ‘non-stop boyfriends,’ her sisters joked, not without wonder and a little envy. They admired her and were always asking her advice about men” (28). This shows that she is in fact different from her sisters- the only one who is capable of having a romantic relationship with a boy. She uses this to shock people, and this also works on her parents. This is how she has developed her independence. Sandra is Americanized by the fact that she takes refuge in the American lifestyle from the loss of her art. Sandra is the most mentally troubled of the García children, and this is shown by her dependence on other people. She realizes that America is truly the better country over the Dominican Republic, when “she felt beyond either of her parents: she could tell that they were small people compared to these Fannings. She had herself witnessed a scene whose disclosure could cause trouble. What did she care if her parents demanded that she eat all of her pastelón. She would say, just as an American girl might, ‘I don’t wanna. You can’t make me. This is a free country’” (184). This shows that she adopts the American lifestyle to cope with the apparent loss of influence from her parents; they are obviously not much compared to the power that the Fannings assert as Americans. However, Sandra’s dependent nature on her parents prevents her from fully becoming American. This is because she never claims her independence, but would have

done had she continued to make art. Sandra was an artist as a child, but because of a broken arm, she looses her talent. She says “By Christmas, the lessons were over. My cast was off. But I was a changed child. Months of pampering and the ridicule of my cousins had turned me inward. But now when the world filled me, I could no longer draw it out. I was sullen and dependent on my mother’s sole attention, tender-hearted, and whiney: the classic temperament of the artist but without anything to show for my bad character. I could no longer draw. My hand had lost it’s art” (254). Because of this, she is unable to claim her independence, as it lies on the road to art. This is what causes her mental breakdown years later. Carla finds it hardest to be Americanized, but through the process of puberty this does happen. Carla feels out of place in the new American world, as it is so different from the environment she grew up in. However, she sees herself become American in the process of puberty. When she is at school, there are some vicious bullies who comment on her changing body: “They were disclosing her secret shame: her body was changing. The girl she had been back home in Spanish was being shed. In her place- almost as if the boy’s ugly words and taunts had the power of spells- was a hairy, breast-budding grownup no one would ever love” (153). This shows that the American boys are influencing how she thinks. She is troubled about herself and her body because these boys are making her feel this way. She would not feel this way had she continued living in the Dominican Republic, as she would have been living in a bubble because of her family’s reputation. Carla deals with these problems when she grows up by becoming a psychologist and analyzing her family’s problems. Alvarez states “The eldest, a child psychologist, admonished the mother in an autobiographical paper, ‘I Was There Too,’

by saying that the color system had weakened the four girl’s differentiation abilities and made them forever unclear about personality boundaries” (41). This shows that she has learnt to be independent by becoming the one person in her family who brings things to light that had better be left. It also reflects that she does realize that she had problems as a child, and became a psychologist to understand these problems and to come to terms with them. All in all, the García girls are all Americanized, and this does in turn lead to them being able to become independent. This is important, because it casts Americanization in a different light. Many countries around the world despise America because of a self righteous attitude, and the common process of Americanization that it’s people push onto immigrants. However, in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, this is shown to be a good thing. If the girls had been left in the Dominican Republic, they would have remained the four girls, and would be unsure about personalities; but because they moved to America and experienced a much more liberal society, they were able to escape their trappings and become independent. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents does not praise the American lifestyle, but it does show readers that Americanization- which is often looked down upon- can be a good thing.