In a reverse chronological sequence of events, Julia Alvarez takes her readers through the immigration experience of the four Garcia sisters: Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Leaving behind a life of privilege surrounded by their large extended family, the four girls move with their Papi and Mami to New York City, and begin the long, never-ending process of assimilating into American culture. The story is as much a coming of age tale as it is a feminist, Latino perspective on American culture, beautifully conveyed with a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary here and there.
The sisters are adults at the beginning of the book, and going back in time, the reader experiences their divorces, marriages, college years, teenage angst and confusion, and efforts to learn English while attending American public schools. Their father’s involvement in a plot against the dictator, the subsequent investigations by the authorities, and the escape with the help of friends and family are all experienced by the reader alongside Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia. Alvarez did a good job of keeping me hooked. The why’s and the how’s unfold further and further the closer the reader gets to the end of the book--which is actually the beginning of the story.
What is so successful about Alvarez’s method of using four perspectives is that she communicates the possibilities as well as the certainties that characterize the immigration/assimilation experience: the possible psychological ramifications, the social challenges, the religious conflict and the effects assimilation has on family relationships. I would argue that her main focus however, is the conflict between conservative and progressive, traditional and modern, the parent and the child.
Even though she utilizes all four sisters’ points of view, as reader, you’ll probably end up latching on to one particular sister. I found Yolanda’s effort to express her self and her search for who she really is and where she really belongs to be especially compelling. Whichever sister’s point of view captures you the most--Sofia’s rebellious ways and search for freedom from their stifling, conservative father, or Sandra’s psychological struggles with body image, or Carla’s pursuit of the American dream and of an understanding of the family’s assimilation experience--you will no doubt be caught up in las aventuras de las chicas Garcia!