Entranced by language, Yolanda attends graduate school and becomes a college English teacher. She also is the sister who most openly embraces feminist ideals. As a child she's a tomboy and resents pressure to be more feminine. Despite Yolanda's academic success in the U.S., she never fully adjusts to the country. She has trouble communicating with American romantic partners and blames her divorce on faulty communication. She struggles to reconcile the English and Spanish languages and the worlds each represents. As an adult Yolanda considers moving back to the Dominican Republic.
Carla is levelheaded and intelligent. She frequently takes charge at family gatherings and mediates when conflict arises among her sisters. The other García sisters respect Carla but think she tends to be bossy and patronizing. She uses psychological terms to explain her family's sometimes confusing behavior and to understand her own past. Just entering puberty when her family moves to the United States, Carla has a rough transition but eventually adjusts.
Sandra is the only sister with light skin and blue eyes. Because Sandra has physical traits often considered attractive in America, her mother claims she has "everything going for her." Sandra's appearance is a source of both comfort and conflict to her. She wants to be noticed and admired by others. As a child she's a talented artist but stops drawing after she breaks her arm. As an adult she's academically successful but experiences an eating disorder and a mental breakdown. She later recovers and gets married.
Sofía is considered the "maverick" sister. She misbehaves more brazenly than the other girls and is more secure in her sexuality. She has a confident, powerful personality. As the girls grow older, they start asking Sofía for advice on boyfriends. She soon becomes an authority among the sisters despite being the youngest. As a teenager Sofía briefly lives in the Dominican Republic with her cousins and attempts to fit in as a Dominican teen. Later she becomes estranged from Papi after he discovers love letters her boyfriend, Otto, sent her. Sofía marries Otto and has two children.
Bright and curious, Mami is a storyteller who likes telling a favorite childhood story about each of her daughters as they grow into adulthood. She enjoys her aristocratic status in the Dominican Republic. In the United States she copes with a loss of status by inventing new devices, taking adult education courses, and helping in her husband's medical office. Mami adjusts to American life more easily than her husband does. She went to school in the United States and speaks English without an accent. But she still grows apart from her daughters as they absorb more American habits and traditions and become Americans.
Intelligent, headstrong, and loving, Papi is a doctor who practices medicine in the Bronx once he gets his career restarted in New York. Politically active in the Dominican Republic, he was part of a plot to assassinate dictator Rafael Trujillo. Papi's political activities put him and his family in danger, forcing them all to flee the country. He's more attached to Dominican traditions than his wife is, and his daughters describe him as "Old World." His status as the man of the house gives him less authority in the United States than it did in the Dominican Republic. Papi copes with a loss of status and power, as well as constant fear of the dictator's secret police even when he's safe in New York.