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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Study Guide

Julia Alvarez

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Part 2, Chapter 4 : Snow | Summary



Yolanda narrates this story in first person.

Yolanda attends a Catholic school her first year in New York. She likes the teachers, especially her fourth-grade teacher Sister Zoe, who patiently teaches Yolanda English words. Soon Yolanda learns "holocaust is in the air." In the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis Sister Zoe explains Russian weapons are aimed at New York City, and President Kennedy fears war with the Communists. Air raid drills are common at school. When Sister Zoe demonstrates how a nuclear bomb works, she draws a picture using "a flurry of chalkmarks" on the blackboard.

One December morning Yolanda sees white specks falling through the air outside the school window. She screams, fearing a bomb. Sister Zoe says what Yolanda's seeing is snow. Yolanda has heard about snow but has never seen it. She learns each snowflake is "like a person, irreplaceable and beautiful."


The use of first-person perspective indicates Yolanda has a personal connection to the memory she's sharing. This story shows how naming objects gives Yolanda power over her environment. The classroom is one of the first places Yolanda encounters the English language. She learns how to relate to each new aspect of her world, like the laundromat and the subway, by saying the word. She's even more empowered when Sister Zoe makes a point of pronouncing her name correctly.

The girls' childhood is marked by a sense of danger and violence in the atmosphere. This danger becomes evident in stories like Part 2, Chapter 3 or Part 3, Chapter 1. Here the threat is distant, but it shows how strange and alienating the world is to Yolanda. She learns the vocabulary of nuclear damage and practices the physical actions of an air raid drill. Since she's still grasping the new language, she learns from images, too. The image Sister Zoe draws creates a picture in Yolanda's mind of total destruction. Her transition to the new country is marked by fear of uncontrollable events.

When she sees flurries in the air, she associates the unfamiliar with violence. Her shock at seeing snow reveals how alienating the new world's sights and sounds are to her. Then Sister Zoe gives her the right word, and Yolanda can encounter snow in its proper context. She sees the new world can come with individual beauty and extraordinary possibilities. The unreal magic of "the white crystals that fell out of American skies" is becoming real. Narrating as a Dominican American now used to snow, Yolanda remembers the surprise and wonder she felt when the sight was brand new. Snow coats the landscape. It represents the unknown, which can be either destructive or transformative.

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