How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Study Guide

Julia Alvarez

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2 : The Blood of the Conquistadores | Summary



Sofía narrates part of the section in first person.

As an adult looking back on her childhood, she doesn't remember what happened during their last day on the Island. Her sisters told her she was rude to a guard and almost got Papi killed. Yoyo claims she too almost got Papi killed by talking about his gun. Sofía imagines the sisters "competing ... for the most haunted past."

She remembers Chucha, the Haitian maid. Chucha's accent meant she couldn't pronounce words like parsley, and her childhood suffering meant she was in a constant bad mood. Chucha had been with the family for years since before Mami was born, arriving at Sofía's grandfather's doorstep during Trujillo's Haitian massacre and begging for shelter. Chucha acted "like a nun," praying on her days off and never going anywhere. Other household staff looked down on Chucha because she was a black Haitian. Sofía noticed Chucha's strange habits, like leaving "voodoo" items all over the house and sleeping in her own coffin. At first Mami insisted Chucha sleep in a bed, but Chucha had authority in the house—no one stood in her way—and Mami relented since Chucha was loyal and kind.

Chucha told the girls they were going to a strange country. She said she went to a strange country, too, as a child and never saw her family again. But she did bring one thing along: a wooden statue similar to statues the adult Sofía has seen in anthropology textbooks. Sofía always hoped the textbook statues would trigger childhood memories like "tasting that cookie did for Proust." When Chucha pours water over a platform on the statue's head, the water evaporates. The statue looks as though it is crying. As Chucha prays aloud for the girls, they start crying, too.

Chucha narrates the rest of the story in the first person present tense. She watches Laura and the girls, all crying as they leave, their car driven by Americans "too pale to be the living." Chucha knows Laura will cry even more in the new country. In the empty house Chucha senses her loa, a spirit in Haitian voodoo. Her santos, or saints, are "settling into the rooms." She hears Carlos leave. No one's left but her and Chino. She has the keys and will clean the house, then help at Carmen's and Arturo's homes before they leave. Victor will stop by to give her monthly wages.

Chucha imagines the house abandoned. Eventually guards will ransack it. Chucha blesses each room and drives out evil spirits as she cleans. She feels the loss of the family and anticipates their troublesome future. Though the Garcías "will be haunted by what they do and do not remember," she knows they'll make it through. When Chucha enters her own room, she lights a candle for each member of the García family, washes herself, and lies in her coffin to sleep.


Sofía is the family member furthest removed from the events in Section 1. For her the Trujillo dictatorship is a story instead of a memory. Her narration thus represents the imprint of the family's telling and retelling of their lives. Memories return like ghosts, populating the "haunted past" the girls all want to claim. Sofía shows how she and Yoyo both dramatically imagined their own childhood behavior as the family's possible downfall, rewriting themselves as tragic main characters in the García family narrative.

The story of how Chucha joined the household connects the Garcías to Trujillo's infamous 1937 massacre of Haitians. The killings were known as the Parsley Massacre because Haitians and Dominicans pronounced the Spanish word for parsley differently.

The adult Sofía is distant from Chucha. She describes young Chucha seeking shelter from the massacre as a "poor skinny little thing" and Chucha's Haitian traditions and "voodoo jobs" as bizarre and mysterious. Asides like "She slept in her coffin. No kidding" assume readers share Sofía's perspective. Young Sofía is an outsider in Chucha's culture, exposed to traditions she doesn't understand. Even Chucha's name is "a play echo" of the cook's pet name for the girls. Chucha is presented as a reflection in the García girls' minds.

Sofía points out the artificial-sounding nature of her story. She imagines readers associating CIA agents, limousines, and "creepy spies" with television police dramas like Miami Vice. Sofía's tone shows she's also part of the audience, far enough from the scene to see it as a television drama. She's anchored in the distant past by the memory of an object. Part 3 focuses frequently on the importance of objects, which can contain stories and emotions beyond the object itself. Chucha's statue is similar to Yoyo's crucifix in Part 1, Chapter 5: an object from her heritage bringing her comfort and consolation. Further Sofía's reference to the cookie unlocking memory recalls the incident in French writer Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. When the narrator tastes a madeleine cookie, the taste brings back distinct memories from his past. Sofía wants a statue resembling Chucha's to unleash her memories in a similar way. Like Sandi in Section 1 Sofía searches through where she came from to find out how she arrived at where she is. Her recollection of "this little moment" fails to open the floodgates. In the ceremony Chucha performs, the girls grieve for their past and their homeland the way Chucha grieved for hers.

The narrative switches abruptly to Chucha's point of view as she narrates in the present tense. The repeated narrations of back-to-back events show how the past changes according to who tells the story. Chucha is the only character outside the García family to give a first-person narrative. Her own perspective as a forced exile helps her see the Garcías' future more clearly than they can. The loa, revealing "stories of what is to come," is a powerful spirit in Haitian voodoo. Chucha's loa gives her the ability to transcend time and see what's going to happen rather than what's already happened. The book operates in a similar way, telling readers the future and working backward to the past. Don Carlos's spirit silences Chucha on its way out, warning her about the consequences of telling the story.

Her narration reveals the impact of sudden, forced migration. The plants, animals, and household objects left behind show an interrupted life. The family took care, pride, and effort to build a life, and now they're uprooted. The guardias' destruction of the household reflects the destruction of the girls' Dominican childhoods. By remembering the house's objects Chucha can memorize the past and keep it with her. She compares the girls' losses to a death or "dirt thrown on a box." She understands how exile can be similar to grief, for exiles lose an important part of themselves. The Garcías will have to invent the stories they need and the stories they can't remember.

Chucha's narrative effectively closes the chapters of the Garcías' Dominican life. As she imagines the new environment, the symbol of New York City develops. The city means magic and danger to those who haven't been there. Chucha pictures a "bewitched and unsafe" country where any kind of evil can happen. When she sleeps in her coffin, she collapses time in her own way, keeping her death close to her as if it's already happening. Similarly she describes her bedtime routine in the present tense as if it's always taking place. Chucha knows the future is inevitable and will come whether she's ready or not.

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