Julia Alvarez was born on March 27, 1950, in New York. Her family returned to the Dominican Republic, where Alvarez spent the first ten years of her life in comfort, surrounded by an extended family. Alvarez’s grandfather, a cultural attaché to the United Nations, and her uncles, educated at Ivy League colleges, maintained their ties with the United States. Along with her sisters, Alvarez attended the American schools; in her words, she had an “American childhood” on the island.
From 1930 to 1961, the Dominican Republic was under the ruthless dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, a tyrant who had maintained his hold on power by unprecedented repression. As Trujillo’s thirst for absolute control bred further corruption, Alvarez’s father became involved in anti-Trujillo activities. Alvarez’s idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end when a plot to remove the dictator from power was unearthed. With the looming possibility of Dr. Alvarez’s arrest, the family left for the United States.
Life in Queens, New York, offered a stark contrast to the family’s earlier lifestyle. Her “American childhood” had not prepared the ten-year-old Julia for the realities of American life. She missed her friends and cousins and yearned to be accepted in school, but her accented English set her apart from others. In desperation, Alvarez turned to books and eventually writing, which became a substitute for her island home and initiated...
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