Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Part 1, Chapter 3

By Julia Alvarez

Part 1, Chapter 3

The Four Girls (Carla, Yolanda, Sandra, Sofía)

  • When "the four girls" were kids, they used to wear color-coded outfits that matched their mom's. So Papi would call them "the five girls."
  • Was the dad disappointed that he never had a son? Nah. "Good bulls sire cows," he would say. Basically, having daughters makes him even more of a man.
  • The oldest daughter grows up to be a child psychologist and writes a paper criticizing her mother's color-coding method. This hurts the mom's feelings (of course). At the next family get-together, she cries a little and says she was just doing the best she could.
  • The four girls pat the mom on the back and tell her what a good job she did. Then everybody drinks more wine.
  • And Mami decides to tell her favorite story about the oldest, Carla.
  • The mother might get the four girls confused sometimes, but she has one favorite story she likes to tell about each girl.
  • Carla's story is called "The Red Sneakers," and it goes something like this: when Carla was little, the family was really poor. Carla wanted red sneakers, but they couldn't afford any. One day, a neighbor gave Mami a pair of sneakers that were just Carla's size! But they weren't red. Carla threw a hissy fit about this, and threw the shoes against the wall. But later Mami caught Papi and Carla painting the sneakers red with a bottle of her nail polish. The end.
  • Even though the whole family knows the story by heart, Carla still loves to hear it because it means she's the center of attention.
  • Carla and her analyst husband share some inside jokes about the hidden meaning of the story.
  • Everyone's had too much to drink, and they're getting tired and cranky. Let's move on.
  • Yolanda, the third daughter, wanted to be a poet for a while, but eventually gave up. Now she's a teacher.
  • But Mami always wanted Yolanda to be a famous writer. She goes to all her poetry readings, which can actually be a bit embarrassing if Yolanda wants to read a steamy poem.
  • At one reading, Mami sits next to a a handsome, greying professor who turns out to be Yolanda's lover. They get to chatting, and Mami tells the lover the story of Yoyo on the bus. Here it is:
  • Yolanda's dad had a convention in New York, and the parents took Yolanda with them because she was losing all her hair and needed to see a specialist. The bus was super crowded, and the parents accidentally end up getting off without her. Parenting fail! They run after the bus and finally catch it. Yoyo hadn't even noticed their absence—she's too busy reciting a poem to a crowd of admirers. The End.
  • Yolanda reads her first poem, dedicated to her lover, Clive, the man her mother has been chatting with. It's called "Bedroom Sestina." Awkward.
  • Mami doesn't tell a favorite story about Sandra, the second daughter. She says she wants to "forget the past" (1.3.66).
  • The last story Mami told about Sandi was told to Dr. Tandlemann, a psychiatrist, explaining why Mami and Papi were committing Sandra to a mental hospital.
  • So here it is: Sandra went on a drastic diet, which Mami says drove her crazy. She was always very pretty, and it went to her head, Mami explains. Then she went away to graduate school and lost even more weight.
  • Until one day, the dean called to say Sandi was in the hospital. When Mami and Papi rushed to her bedside, they found she was reading obsessively. She said she couldn't stop, because she had to read all the world's greatest books before she turned into a monkey. And finally, after a few days of this, she held up her hands and screamed, "Monkey hands, monkey hands!" (1.3.106). The end.
  • Through the window, Papi sees Sandi walking with a nurse in the lawn. But Sandi turns and runs when she sees a giant lawnmower coming towards her that she thinks is a roaring animal. She doesn't see Papi waving at her.
  • Speaking of hospitals and monkeys...
  • ... Mami makes monkey faces at a newborn baby in a hospital nursery. It's her first grandchild.
  • Mami gets to chatting with a new father who's also looking at the babies. She tells him the story of how her youngest daughter, Fifi, met her husband, Otto.
  • We've heard this one before. Here's Mami's version: Fifi went on a chaperoned church trip to Peru. While there, she met this adorable, bumbling German tourist who didn't speak any Spanish, and helped him get a deal on a poncho. They fall in love, get married, and have a baby. The end!
  • Uh... isn't that a little different than the version we heard in the last chapter? No matter.
  • A week later, the four girls are hanging out at Fifi's place. The whole family is in town, but everyone else is still sleeping.
  • The girls are trying to tell each other the "true stories of how their lives are going," but everyone's a bit touchy. Sandi just got out of the mental hospital a month ago, and keeps crying. Yoyo's boyfriend Clive went back to his wife, again. And Carla is being her usual bossy self.
  • The girls can agree on one thing—Mami tends to twist the truth a little bit in her storytelling.
  • Mami, Papi and the husbands wake up and join the sisters, and Mami starts telling the baby a story. Everyone falls silent to listen.

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