How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Study Guide

Julia Alvarez

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Quotes


Let this turn out to be my home.

Yolanda, Part 1, Chapter 1

The adult Yolanda has lived most of her life in the United States but doesn't consider the country home. Born in the Dominican Republic, she isn't sure the island is her home either. She feels rootless and groundless. This quotation demonstrates home as a concept and a feeling of belonging rather than a place of birth. It highlights the particular struggle of the one-and-a-half generation immigrant who moved to another country as a child.


I want to forget the past.

Mami, Part 1, Chapter 3

The past remains with the Garcías no matter how often they try to forget. Mami wants to move forward after Sandi's mental breakdown and hospitalization. This painful memory replaces the "favorite story" she once told about Sandra. Mami's stories about the other girls rewrite the past with a moral or happy ending. This time she can't rewrite. Sandra later repeats the desire to "forget the past," indicating she too wishes she could rewrite her past.


I've heard so many versions of that story ... I don't know which one is true.

Sandra, Part 1, Chapter 3

This quotation illustrates how families create their own histories, manipulating the past to create a family mythology. Stories change according to who's telling them. The novel questions whether stories can dictate truth. Is the truth what actually happened or what survives in family lore? The story Sandra is discussing is a family legend passed down in different versions by various family members. Even Sofía, the subject of the story, claims she doesn't know which version really happened. She has accepted the family retelling of her life.


Once they got started on words, there was no telling what they could say.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 4

Yolanda recalls connecting with her first husband, John. She realized how many emotions they could communicate through language. As a writer she is fascinated by all the possibilities of language. But she knows language is powerful. Some emotions, like love, feel dangerous to express. In the hospital Yolanda worries she'll communicate her love for Dr. Payne accidentally. Yolanda senses the damaging potential of words to reveal secrets and vulnerabilities.


We just didn't speak the same language.

Yolanda, Part 1, Chapter 4

Yolanda means "language" both literally and figuratively here. Despite her fluency in English, she still retains Spanish as a first language. The boundaries between her two languages become blurred at times. Communicating with monolingual John is its own challenge. John gives her nicknames she doesn't like, and they don't agree on the definition of love. By "language" Yolanda also refers to other aspects affecting verbal and nonverbal communication, like habits, mindset, culture, and personality. She and John often don't understand each other. Their failure to find common ground feels like a complete breakdown of language.


There's more to the story. There always is to a true story.

Yolanda, Part 1, Chapter 5

Yolanda acknowledges a "true story" has many layers. Because life continues, true stories can always become more complicated. Unlike her mother's stories in Part 1, Chapter 3, brief anecdotes with a purpose, the stories Yolanda has in mind don't often have a clear meaning. She herself isn't sure why she was reluctant to sleep with Rudy Elmenhurst or what this reluctance indicated. She knows the story didn't end when they broke up, for aspects of the relationship continued affecting her life. The past always influences the present.


Better an independent nobody than a high-class houseslave.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 2

Mami, called Laura, describes her change in status since moving from the Dominican Republic to New York. After several years she has found she prefers her American life. At first she felt removed from her old position in Dominican aristocracy, surrounded by family with an important name. But she realizes all she could be there was "a wife and a mother." Though her inventions never amounted to anything, she has the freedom to explore different possibilities and use her mind. She can help Yoyo with a speech championing American independence. Although Laura has resigned herself to "nobody" status, she does get a sense of liberty.


Since the natives were unfriendly, and the country inhospitable, she took root in the language.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 2

This statement shows how Yolanda comes into her own in the United States. It also describes how Alvarez herself became a writer. Alvarez immigrated to New York under circumstances similar to the García family's. Both Alvarez and Yolanda experienced unfamiliar customs, prejudice, and in Yolanda's case a loss of social status. Yolanda needs a place to put down roots. She finds one in reading and writing, a home that can belong to any nation. Language and words become Yolanda's career and comprise much of her personal sense of identity.


Spanish was something other people paid to be around.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 5

Young Sandra, new to America, is frustrated by the prejudice of her neighbors. She's sensing white people are treated better than people of color and natives treated better than immigrants. She observes her parents, too, acting as if white people were better than they are. Her self-esteem is beginning to be affected. At a Spanish restaurant Sandra notices Americans choosing to enjoy food from a culture like her own. Their enjoyment has positive and negative aspects. Sandra feels she may belong in the U.S. after all. But she'll later notice Americans like Mrs. Fanning treating Hispanic cultures as entertaining spectacles, admiring their music and dance out of curiosity, not true respect.


Everything she sees sharpens as if through the lens of loss.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 1

Mami, called Laura, learns the family will soon leave their home in the Dominican Republic. Their imminent departure "sharpens" and clarifies her view of the objects around her. Through the rest of the book this "lens of loss" helps characters see the past more clearly. Its perspective gives their memories greater importance. It also fractures the family members' sense of self as they feel they've lost the person they used to be. The section later describes Sandra's feeling something missing from her life for years.


Like we're all competing, right? For the most haunted past.

Sofía, Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2

Both Sofía and Yolanda have told stories in which their childhood indiscretions almost got their father killed. The women both want the most dramatic or "haunted" story. They want to be main players in the family's narrative. Haunting also implies the constant presence of ghosts from the past. The García women want both to forget the past and to remember it, for past events inform who they are today.


They will be haunted by what they do and don't remember.

Chucha, Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2

Chucha, an immigrant exiled from her country, imagines how the Garcías will recall their past lives. Memories are malleable and constantly shifting throughout the book. One family member recalls an event one way while another has a different story. Some painful memories linger longer than the family wants them to. But when they lose memories, essential parts of themselves fade. Memories are crucial to the Garcías' consistent sense of self. The book moves backward in time to show how the girls move backward in their minds to search for their lost selves.


They will invent what they need to survive.

Chucha, Part 3, Chapter 1, Section 2

The idea of invention recurs in the book. In Part 2, Chapter 2 Mami becomes an inventor of new devices. Yolanda becomes an inventor of poems. Each family member invents a new way of existing in New York. They have to create what they feel is missing from their lives.


Before I could ever get to my life, conscience was arranging it all.

Sandra, Part 3, Chapter 3

Young Sandra worries she'll never be able to live freely. Religious training provides a strict list of what she can and can't do. Sandra feels an urge to step outside the arrangement and transgress the boundaries she's given. She wants to create her own life, not have it created for her. This urge will resurface when she leaves the Dominican Republic and has a crisis of identity as a young adult.


I am collapsing all time now so that it fits in what's left.

Yolanda, Part 3, Chapter 5

As a writer and chronicler of the past Yolanda manipulates time in the same way Alvarez does. She can collapse years of events into a single sentence. To fit her entire story into words, she has to bring the past, present, and future together. Alvarez does the same by writing about the long future of the García de la Torre family, from their Spanish ancestry to their American future.

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