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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Study Guide

Julia Alvarez

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Course Hero. "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 27 May 2023. <>.

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1, Chapter 1: Antojos

The stories in Part 1 take place from 1972–89 in reverse chronological order.

Set in 1989 "Antojos" is narrated in third person from Yolanda's point of view. After several years in the United States Yolanda García returns to the Dominican Republic for a family visit. She drives alone through the countryside on a search for guavas, despite her family's warnings not to travel by herself. Yolanda's journey teaches her she's become more American than Dominican. But she still longs for the Dominican Republic to be her home.

Part 1, Chapter 2: The Kiss

This story is narrated in third person and focuses on Sofía, the youngest daughter. The García family gathers for Papi's 70th birthday party, held at Sofía's Michigan home. Sofía now has an infant son, named after her father, and wants to reconcile with Papi. The two have been estranged since Papi read Sofía and Otto's love letters. After an emotional confrontation with Papi, Sofía left home. At the birthday party Papi realizes his daughters are now American women with jobs and husbands. They don't need him anymore. The García sisters try a kissing game to lift Papi's spirits, but Sofía's kiss has an unexpected effect.

Part 1, Chapter 3: The Four Girls

This story is narrated in third person. Mami has a "favorite story" about each girl's childhood, which she tells repeatedly when the girls are adults. At Carla's wedding Mami tells a story about young Carla insisting on red sneakers. At Yolanda's poetry reading Mami tells an audience member, Yolanda's lover Clive, about Yolanda's early ability to charm a crowd with words. Mami doesn't have a favorite story about Sandra because recent memories are too painful. Sandra spends time in a psychiatric ward after developing severe anorexia. A distraught Mami tells senior psychiatrist Dr. Tandlemann that Sandra doesn't think she's human anymore.

When Sofía's daughter is born, Mami tells a man in the maternity ward how Sofía brought the family luck at her birth. Later the four adult daughters gather at Sofía's home and share the truth about their lives.

Part 1, Chapter 4: Joe

This story is narrated in third person from Yolanda's perspective. Yolanda is receiving treatment at a psychiatric hospital. She has a strong reaction to certain words, including her own name and nicknames: Yo, Yoyo, and Joe. Yolanda recalls the divorce from her ex-husband John. At first they love each other. Then their differences become clear, and his habits bother her. John upsets Yolanda by making a list of the pros and cons of staying married to her. Soon neither can understand the words the other speaks.

Yolanda leaves John and returns to her parents' house. Troubled by her behavior—she speaks only in quotes, rhymes, and riddles—her parents send Yolanda to a hospital where she develops feelings for her psychiatrist, Dr. Payne. She uses words and language to cope with the dramatic change in her life and wonders what love means to her now.

Part 1, Chapter 5: The Rudy Elmenhurst Story

Yolanda narrates this story in first person. She discusses her experience with her first college boyfriend, Rudy Elmenhurst. A brash, confident boy from a wealthy family, Rudy meets Yolanda in a creative writing seminar where she feels nervous and different from American-born students. Yolanda is attracted to Rudy but, to his frustration, won't have sex with him. His crass sexual slang disturbs her. Eventually Rudy dumps Yolanda, leaving her devastated and certain she'll always be lonely in America.

Five years later Yolanda is in graduate school, having had lovers and become more open. Rudy reconnects with her and asks if they can have sex. Yolanda throws him out of her apartment, upset he ruined her sexual awakening years ago.

Part 2, Chapter 1: A Regular Revolution

The stories in Part 2 take place between 1960–70 in reverse chronological order.

The García sisters narrate this chapter in first-person plural, speaking with one voice. They spend their first few years in the U.S. homesick. Their parents send them to boarding schools where they don't fit in with the other wealthy students. Then the girls become teenagers and taste the freedom their parents never let them have. They embrace American culture and see the Dominican Republic as "old hat."

Fearing the girls will forget their heritage Mami and Papi start sending them to spend their summers in the Dominican Republic on the enclosed family compound. One summer Mami discovers marijuana Sofía left behind. Sofía, called by her nickname Fifi in the story, is punished and made to spend a year in the Dominican Republic.

After a few months Fifi appears to have adjusted well to Dominican life. She dresses like a Dominican teenager and has a boyfriend, Manuel Gustavo. When the other sisters visit, they're alarmed because Fifi no longer seems like herself. They also notice Manuel is jealous and tyrannical, restricting Fifi's behavior. Manuel wants to have sex without using birth control, and the sisters worry Fifi will give in and end up pregnant. The sisters stage a "revolution" to protect Fifi from Manuel. They get Fifi and Manuel caught alone by the adults in the family. But Fifi is devastated and accuses them of betrayal.

Part 2, Chapter 2: Daughter of Invention

This story is narrated in third person from the perspectives of Yoyo and Mami, called by her first name, Laura.

Inspired by appliances in American department stores, Laura begins inventing when she gets to the United States. She designs several household devices including a suitcase on wheels. Her daughters, who are becoming more independent, are glad their mother is occupied. Then Laura discovers an American already has patented the suitcase on wheels—her idea. She gives up, figuring Americans will always win, and starts helping out in Papi's medical office.

Yoyo is beginning to love writing in the English language. But she hasn't found her voice until she reads American poet Walt Whitman. When Yoyo is asked to write a speech for Teacher's Day at school, she paraphrases Whitman's poetry celebrating the self. Laura praises the speech. Papi, called by his first name Carlos, does not. He says it shows disrespect for authority and forbids Yoyo to read it in school. Carlos remembers life under Dominican dictator, Trujillo, where independent opinions meant death. Yoyo protests and tells her father he's just another chapita, or cop. Laura helps Yoyo write another speech. The next day Carlos attempts to reconcile with Yoyo by buying her the electric typewriter she wants.

Part 2, Chapter 3: Trespass

This story is narrated in third person from Carla's perspective. After a year in New York, Carla is still homesick. She attends a different school than her sisters do and rides the bus alone. A group of schoolboys taunt her by shouting ethnic slurs and throwing rocks.

One day as Carla is walking home from the bus stop, a strange man in a car exposes himself to her. Carla is shocked. Her mother calls the police when she hears what happened. Carla has trouble describing the incident to the police because she can't come up with the English vocabulary. The boys at school stop tormenting her, but she still feels unwelcome in the country.

Part 2, Chapter 4: Snow

Yolanda narrates this story in first person. She describes learning English vocabulary her first year in an American school. The country fears nuclear attack, and Yolanda learns terms like radioactive fallout and bomb shelter. Her teacher, Sister Zoe, draws white dots on the chalkboard to represent a nuclear bomb. When Yolanda sees white flakes falling from the sky, she screams it's a bomb. Sister Zoe tells Yolanda she is seeing snow.

Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 1: The Blood of the Conquistadores

The stories in Part 3 cover the time period from 1956–60 when the García family lived in the Dominican Republic. This section is told in third person from multiple perspectives.

The story takes place on the day the Garcías flee the country after Trujillo's secret police discover Carlos's political activities. While Carlos takes shelter in a hidden closet, two guards from Trujillo's army talk to Laura and the four girls. Laura tells the house staff to find Victor, a CIA agent working with the family, and give him a secret code. Victor arrives and arranges for the guards not to detain Carlos. Victor also informs the family Carlos has received a fellowship to practice medicine in the United States. Laura, Carlos, and the girls prepare to leave immediately.

Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2: The Blood of the Conquistadores

This section is narrated in first person from the perspectives of Sofía and Chucha, the family cook in the Dominican Republic. Sofía is still young when the family leaves the Dominican Republic. Most of what she knows about their last day is based on what family members have told her. But she remembers Chucha, the old Haitian cook who used to sleep in her coffin. Chucha left Haiti forever and took refuge with the García family during Trujillo's massacre of Haitians. Before the girls leave their Dominican home, Chucha reveals a sacred statue she's kept and says a blessing over the girls.

Chucha's narration describes the moments after the García family departs. Chucha imagines the hardships the family will endure in the new country, but she knows they'll survive. She pictures the future of the deserted house, which Trujillo's guards eventually will raid. She prepares for bed and lies in her coffin alone in the house.

Part 3, Chapter 2: The Human Body

This story is narrated in first person from Yolanda's perspective. Yolanda is called by her childhood nickname Yoyo. As cousins the García and de la Torre children are always together. When Tía Mimí brings educational presents from New York City, Yoyo gets a book, and her cousin Mundín gets a doll-shaped puzzle illustrating the human body. Mundín also gets modeling clay, which Yoyo begs to play with. Finally Mundín agrees to give her part of the clay if she'll show him she's a girl. Along with little Sofía, called by her childhood nickname Fifi, Mundín and Yoyo go to the coal shed where they're not allowed to play. When Mundín's mother calls for him, Mundín panics. Yoyo says she won't tell on him—if he gives her the human body doll.

Mundín races out to get the doll, but all three children are caught by the gardener Florentino. To avoid punishment Yoyo lies and says Trujillo's guards, who often raid the property, were there again. The adults hurry off to secure their belongings before the guardias return. In the rush the human body doll is broken and can't be put back together

Part 3, Chapter 3: Still Lives

Sandra narrates this chapter in first person. She's called by her childhood nickname Sandi. As one of many cousins Sandi feels she can't distinguish herself. Then the family discovers she's a gifted artist. Sandi and other cousins begin taking lessons from Doña Charito, a German artist who moved to the Dominican Republic with her husband, Don José. During the first lesson Sandi draws before being instructed to, and Doña Charito throws her out of class. Sandi then spies on Doña Charito's property and discovers a woodshed. Inside it a naked Don José, his head attached to a chain, builds wood sculptures of animals. He's working on a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. When Don José sees Sandi through the window, she falls to the ground in shock and breaks her arm. Doña Charito finds and comforts her.

When the cast is finally removed from Sandi's arm, she finds she can no longer draw. But when her family goes to a Christmas pageant at the National Cathedral, Sandi recognizes the sculptures from Don José's woodshed in the nativity scene. Best of all, the face of the sculpted Virgin Mary resembles Sandi's.

Part 3, Chapter 4: An American Surprise

Carla narrates this story in first person. A few weeks before Christmas, Papi returns from a trip to New York City. As always he brings gifts for the girls. The gifts this time are mechanical banks. Gladys, a cheery family maid who dreams of living in New York City, is intrigued by Carla's Virgin Mary-shaped bank.

The girls play with their banks for several days. But by Christmas they've forgotten about them and add the banks to their shelf of neglected toys. On Christmas night Gladys asks Carla if she can buy the Virgin Mary bank from her. Carla hesitates, for she's been told not to give away gifts. Eventually she lets Gladys have the bank for free.

A few weeks later Mami notices the bank is missing. It's found in Gladys's living quarters, and Gladys is fired for stealing. Carla tells her parents the truth and begs them not to fire Gladys. Papi assures Carla Gladys will find another job and be happy, but he doesn't seem convinced. When Carla turns the handle on the bank, the Mary statue's arms get stuck.

Part 3, Chapter 5: The Drum

Yoyo narrates this chapter in first person. When her grandmother Mamita brings Yoyo a toy drum from New York City, Yoyo bangs the drum all day long. She keeps the drum with her even after losing the drumsticks. She's playing on the large family property one day when she wanders into the coal shed. She believes the former laundry maid, a Haitian woman named Pila, is responsible for haunting the shed with ghosts.

Yoyo finds a litter of kittens in the shed. She wants one, a black kitten with white paws. But she isn't sure a kitten can survive without its mother, and she can't ask an adult without getting into trouble. Then Yoyo encounters a strange, well-dressed man on the property with his dog. The man admires her drum, and Yoyo asks if a kitten can live on its own. The man tells her newborn kittens can't survive without their mother. If she waits a week, he says, the kitten will be ready to live with her.

Yoyo returns to say goodbye to the kitten, which she's named Schwarz after the New York City toy store F.A.O. Schwarz. She hears the man's rifle and realizes he's shooting birds. After he told her to take care of animals, he's not doing the same thing himself. Yoyo considers his action a sign of permission to take Schwarz right away. She scoops up Schwarz, and then sees the black mother cat coming after her. She hurriedly hides Schwarz in the drum and brings the kitten inside.

But Schwarz's meows for its mother troubles Yoyo. She releases Schwarz out the window, and the kitten wanders outside. At night Yoyo sees the mother cat howling at the foot of her bed. Her parents secure the windows the next morning, but the cat still returns night after night. Even after Yoyo moves to New York City, grows into adulthood, and becomes a writer, the cat remains in her dreams.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Yolanda returns to the Dominican Republic.

Rising Action

2 Sofía hosts Papi's 70th birthday party.

3 Mami tells her favorite story about each girl.

4 Sofía returns to the Dominican Republic for a year.

5 Yolanda writes a speech for school.

6 Carla meets a strange man on her way home from school.

7 The Garcías move to Long Island from New York City.

8 The Garcías arrive in America.


9 The Garcías leave the Dominican Republic.

Falling Action

10 Sandra takes art lessons.

11 Carla gives Gladys her mechanical bank.


12 Yolanda finds and hides Schwarz the kitten.

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