How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez presents the histories of the four García sisters in a series of connected short stories, revealing their struggles and origins through a reverse chronology.
Their father, Carlos García, was compelled to leave the Dominican Republic and flee to the United States after a failed rebellion against the Trujillo dictatorship. There, the family had to quickly adjust to American culture, which by the 1960s was undergoing its own upheaval. To bring life to the sisters and their struggles, Alvarez drew from her personal experiences, which she describes in her essay "An American Childhood in the Dominican Republic."
As the García sisters grow up in the United States, they must negotiate identities between two cultures. Alvarez explores many themes: immigration, political exile, personal and cultural identity, race, socioeconomic class, assimilation and expectations for the second generation, the importance of memory and history, the political relationship between the United States and the Dominican Republic, and family.
The chapter/story "The Kiss" provides insight into the ongoing power struggle between Carlos and his youngest daughter, Sofía, highlighting the differences between American and Dominican values and concepts of gender. Sofía expresses her rebellion against her father's expectations by dropping out of college and then marrying a German tourist, even though Carlos had previously warned the sisters; "I don't want loose women in my family." Sofía's decisions to stand up for herself leads to independence but also to being estranged from her father for several years.
In "The Kiss," Sofía insists on holding her father's seventieth birthday party at her house in an attempt to win him back: her own "coup." Jealous at how her husband bonded with Carlos over the birth of her newborn son, Sofía is also determined to show her father how successful she is in her own way. When Carlos meets his new grandson, he invokes traditional concepts of male leadership (such as Charlemagne and Charles the Fifth). His apparent favoring of the boy over his granddaughter hurts and angers Sofía.
The party for Carlos is lavish and even overdone. A proposed kissing game appeals to his ego but ends up backfiring for the same reason. The sisters ultimately misjudge how much traditional Dominican culture still means to their father. Sofía becomes increasingly frustrated that Carlos never suspects that any of the kisses might come from her. The narration notes that "She'd take her turn and make him know it was her." In her anger, Sofía gives him a kiss that could be interpreted as inappropriate between father and daughter but is also a symbol of her need to assert her individuality. As Carlos immediately understands the passionate kiss was not from his wife, he announces the game is over.
Sofía's behavior indicates her ambivalence. On the one hand, she wants to be independent and go her own way outside of Dominican tradition and expectations for women. On the other hand, she wants her father's approval which cannot ever be won, because he believes in and based his life on the traditions she has rejected. Sofía's ambivalence is amplified by the fact that Yolanda, the feminist sister, proposes the game, showing her own difficulty in negotiating her American life with Dominican expectations.
Carlos's allegiance to traditional roles is reflected in his thoughts as he observes the party:
Where were the world's men anymore? Every last one of his sons-in-law was a kid.
He's proud that his wife Laura is still "pretty and slim as a girl" and accepts she will eventually re-marry after he passes away. When he tears off the blindfold and declares the game over, he indicates he will not let himself be blinded by the ways of the younger generation. However, this indicates layers of complication and his own ambivalent position: the culture he is loyal to is also one that rejected him through El Jefe's dictatorship, which he rebelled against.
The party ends on a somber note. Father and daughter remain opposites who at times seek reconciliation, symbolizing the larger problem of having to leave a homeland and its traditional culture—having to reject its politics—and yet still yearning for its comfort. As stated in the chapter's beginning:
They were passionate women, but their devotions were like roots; they were sunk into the past towards the old man.
In "The Kiss," the breakdown in the relationship between Sofia and her father is described, and also their reconciliation. However, the key theme is the different generational values that are identified between Sofia and her father. Her father, being a traditional Dominican male, believes that his daughter should remain virginal and pure and only marry somebody respectable and of a certain position in society. Sofia, now that she has been influenced by American culture, is determined to live her own life and make her own choices, and this is the theme that is highlighted in the following quote, which describes how she reacted to her father opening her private mail and finding out about her sexual relationship with Otto, a German. When her father asks her if she is a whore, she responds:
"It's none of your f***ing business!" she said in a low, ugly-sounding voice like the snarl of an animal who could hurt him. "You have no right, no right at all, to go through my stuff or read my mail!"
The use of the expletive combined with the simile where she is suddenly presented as a creature that "could hurt him" signifies the generational and cultural clash that is occurring here. For a daughter to address her father so in the Dominican Republic would have been unthinkable, as fathers were expected to have authority over their daughters. Now, however, Sofia is able to take initiative herself to reject this role that is forced upon her by her father and make her own decisions and demand that those decisions be respected.