Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Foreignness and 'The Other'

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Foreignness and 'The Other'

This is what she has been missing all these years without really knowing that she has been missing it. Standing here in the quiet, she believes she has never felt at home in the States, never. (1.1.59)

Yolanda seems like she's having a really emotional moment, here. But does she really believe what she says here? That she's never felt at home in the States? Ever? And that this—this view of the island hills—is what she's been missing all her life and will make her feel complete? Um... we doubt it.

The radio is all static—like the sound of the crunching metal of a car; the faint, blurry voice on the airwaves her own, trapped inside a wreck, calling for help. In English or Spanish? she wonders. (1.1.62)

Something about not knowing what language she should speak goes along with the idea of feeling like she's "trapped inside a wreck." We're getting the idea that Yoyo isn't happy with the way her life has been going, and also that she feels caught between two cultures.

Supposedly, the parents were heavy-duty Old World, but the four daughters sounded pretty wild for all that. (1.3.41)

The García girls—and here Clive—refer to their parents several times as being "Old World." (Is that kind of like old school?) This term seems to express their foreignness and their old-fashioned-ness, all rolled into one.

For the hundredth time, I cursed my immigrant origins. If only I too had been born in Connecticut or Virginia, I too would understand the jokes everyone was making on the last two digits of the year, 1969; I too would be having sex and smoking dope; I too would have suntanned parents who took me skiing in Colorado over Christmas break, and I would say things like "no s***," without feeling like I was imitating someone else. (1.5.21)

Being an immigrant makes Yoyo feel really out of the loop. She feels different—set apart—from all her classmates. It's almost as though culture, not just English, were a foreign language.

He had told them he was seeing "a Spanish girl," and he reported they said that should be interesting for him to find out about people from other cultures. It bothered me that they should treat me like a geography lesson for their son. But I didn't have the vocabulary back then to explain even to myself what annoyed me about their remark. (1.5.32)

We like that Yolanda is able to express in hindsight what it was that bothered her about her boyfriend's parents' insensitive remarks. Clearly she has learned a few things since her naive college days.

His parents did most of the chatting, talking too slowly to me as if I wouldn't understand native speakers; they complimented me on my "accentless" English and observed that my parents must be so proud of me. (1.5.35)

Does anyone else think Yoyo says this with a bit of irony in her tone? After all, should she really be congratulated for speaking without an "accent"? What's so great about completely erasing all traces of her culture and background from her speech?

García de la Torre didn't mean a thing to them, but those brand-named beauties simply assumed that, like all third world foreign students in boarding schools, we were filthy rich and related to some dictator or other. (2.1.5)

So here's an example of one U.S. stereotype about foreigners—at least the ones with enough means to be able to go to boarding schools.

Here they were trying to fit in America among Americans; they needed help figuring out who they were, why the Irish kids whose grandparents had been micks were calling them spics. (2.2.21)

So this is the dark side of America's great tradition of immigration and cultural diversity—America's not-so-great tradition of discrimination and racial slurs. Immigration to the U.S. has changed over its history (with more immigrants now coming from Latin America than from Europe), but the pattern of discriminating against the newcomers has stayed the same.

They could have eaten anywhere, Sandi thought, and yet they had come to a Spanish place for dinner. La Bruja was wrong. Spanish was something other people paid to be around.

We love this moment where little Sandi realizes that her culture's foreignness can sometimes be valued and appreciated, and not always scorned and despised.

She was real Haitian too and that's why she couldn't say certain words like the word for parsley or anyone's name that had a j in it, which meant the family was like camp, everyone with nicknames Chucha could pronounce. (3.1.85)

The pronunciation of the Spanish letter j was especially hard for Haitian immigrants, who spoke French. Pronouncing the word for parsley, 'perejil,' wasn't just an innocent exercise for Haitian immigrants living under Trujillo. In the "Parsley Massacre" of 1937, Dominican soldiers used the word to test anyone they suspected of being Haitian. If you couldn't say perejil, you died. Yikes.

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