Study Guide

Carla in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

By Julia Alvarez

Carla

Dr. Carla, aka Miss Bossypants

Carla is the oldest of the four García sisters. Carla's always been pretty bossy, but when she decides to become a psychologist, her condescending advice gets really, really annoying to her family. By college, Carla is "giving all of us frequent free analysis" (2.1.47). (Gee, thanks.)

And later, she uses her family as subject matter for her autobiographical paper "I Was There Too," in which she "admonished the mother [...] by saying that the color system had weakened the four girls' identity differentiation abilities and made them forever unclear about personality boundaries" (1.3.5). Way to keep those family secrets secret, Carla.

Carla's education in psychology gives her a smugly superior attitude that particularly annoys her sister Yolanda. Just listen to them argue:

"Yolanda," Carla corrects her. "She wants to be called Yolanda now."

"What do you mean, wants to be called Yolanda now? That's my name, you know?"

"Why are you so angry?" Carla's calmness is professional.

Yolanda rolls her eyes. "Spare me the nickel and dime therapy, thank you." (1.3.153-156)

Carla is married to the analyst she was seeing when she divorced her first husband. The two of them share a lot of inside jokes (psychologists only, guys) and PDA. Listening to Mami tell her favorite story about Carla, she and her analyst husband wink and snicker at the mention of red sneakers, but won't let anyone else in on the joke: "Her husband whispered something in her ear. They laughed" (1.3.23).

The Worst Seventh-Grade Year... Ever

Like her sister Sandi, Carla is way more interesting as a kid. The story "Trespass" documents what is probably the worst seventh-grade year in history. Newly uprooted Carla is wracked by "homesickness," praying at every opportunity: "Let us please go back home, please" (2.3.2). The language barrier makes her feel like she will "never get the hang of this new country" (2.3.3).

But that's not all. Not by a long shot! As if adolescence weren't hard enough already, Carla is tortured by a group of schoolyard bullies who expose "her secret shame" to the world:

One of them, standing behind her in line, pulled her blouse out of her skirt where it was tucked in and lifted it high. "No titties," he snickered. Another yanked down her socks, displaying her legs, which had begun growing soft, dark hairs. "Monkey legs!" he yelled to his pals. (2.3.6)

The boys don't just pick on her about her body. They also bully her about being an immigrant. They shout at her and make fun of her accent. These guys are total jerks.

Just when we think things can't get any worse for poor twelve-year-old Carla, she is stalked by a pedophile on her way home from school. He sexually assaults her by exposing himself to her, and tries to convince her to get into his car. Fortunately, she escapes. But the whole experience is traumatizing. And she has to describe it to the big, gruff American police officers afterwards. It's completely awful.

Little Carlita

Carla is at her most sympathetic in the story "An American Surprise." When the maid Gladys offers to buy Carla's toy bank, Carla doesn't want to take Glady's money. Carla tries to work out what the right thing to do is:

For a moment, I didn't know how being good worked. Most times, Mami was around, telling me the rules: you weren't supposed to give away gifts you received. Gladys should keep her wallet. But that meant I should keep that old bank, which to give away would be a generous deed. (3.4.69)

When Carla's parents discover the bank in Gladys's room, Carla is quick to fess up to giving the bank to Gladys, even if it means getting in trouble:

Trouble was brewing in the big house. It had already landed on Gladys, and there was no use hiding, for sooner or later, it would fall on me too. [...]

"I gave it to her," I confessed. (3.7.78,79)

We think Carla is pretty brave here. And she shows empathy when she tries to convince Papi not to fire Gladys:

"Papi," I cried, turning around. "Don't make Gladys go away, please." (3.4.86)

Carla's interventions don't work, but you gotta admire the kid for trying.

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