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As a young man in the Dominican Republic, Carlos García is one of the "firebrand(s) among the upper-class fellas" (3.1.46) that Victor Hubbard of the U.S. State Department is grooming for revolution. Ooh, we like the word "firebrand." It makes Papi sound daring and dashing, like a Dominican 007.
But the trauma of a near-escape from the SIM (Trujillo's secret police), the hardship of a forced relocation to the United States, and the sadness of losing "brothers and friends to the dictator Trujillo" all take their toll on Papi. All that stress can really mess a guy up:
Even after all these years, he cringed if a black Volkswagen passed him on the street. He feared anyone in uniform: the meter maid giving out parking tickets, a museum guard approaching to tell him not to get too close to his favorite Goya. (2.2.55)
A sudden shout from Mami will send Papi into a panic, making him imagine Trujillo's secret police have finally caught up with them after all. He can't shake the memories of "blood in the streets and late night disappearances" (2.2.55).
Papi isn't the same fun-loving dad anymore; he's "an unhappy, haunted man" (2.2.53).
Part of Papi's unhappiness has to do with the fact that he's homesick. Papi keeps toying with the idea of moving the family back to the Dominican Republic, but every time he goes for a trial visit, a new revolution breaks out. "I am given up, Mami!" he says. "It is no hope for the Island. I will become un dominican-york" (2.1.2). When Trujillo finally does the world a favor and dies, Papi starts following the Dominican newspapers with enthusiasm:
Now that the dictatorship had been toppled, he had become interested in his country's fate again. The interim government was going to hold the first free elections in thirty years. History was in the making, freedom and hope were in the air again! There was still some question in his mind whether or not he might move his family back. (2.2.36)
But it never comes to pass. The family has settled in the U.S. They're Americans now.
Papi gets worried he's going "lose their girls to America," and he starts getting pretty over-protective (2.1.7). He's not down with the American custom of giving daughters independence. Independence-shmindependence! Independence is for political revolutionaries—male political revolutionaries.
Unfortunately for Papi, his daughters turn out to be just as revolutionary as he was. Papi gets a sinking feeling that "soon he would be surrounded by a houseful of independent American women" (2.2.51).
The more American his daughters become, the crankier Papi gets. And the crankier he gets, the stricter his rules become. It's easy to see that Papi really thinks he's doing what's best for his daughters. The way he explains it to Yoyo is this: "My daughter, your father, he love you very much [...] He just want to protect you" (2.2.66).
Nevertheless, Papi's rules become tyrannical. When Papi forbids Yolanda from giving an edgy speech at a ninth-grade ceremony, Yolanda accuses Papi of acting just like his most hated enemy, Trujillo. As you can imagine, this does not go over well.
The huge blow-out fight between Papi and his daughter Fifi shows that Papi hasn't mellowed with age. His rules are just as strict as ever, even though his daughters are now adults. The only difference is that now, his daughters aren't afraid to stand up to him anymore. More and more, they treat him like a child, coddling him through his temper tantrums "as if he were a feverish boy" (1.2.22). The daughters still love their Papi—maybe even in a way that's sort of taboo—but those macho, sexist ideas of his? Nope. Not going to stand for them.