How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Analysis
by Julia Alvarez

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Dominican Republic and Trujillo's Regime
The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation that occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island Hispaniola, located between the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492, and Hispaniola was the site of the first Spanish settlement in the New World. The western part of the island was settled by the French, and the entire island was conquered by 1795. The French imported large numbers of African slaves to work the sugar plantations, until a rebellion led to independence for the island, now known as Haiti. The Spanish-speaking inhabitants declared their own independence in 1844, and called their new nation the Dominican Republic. Because the country was rich in agricultural products such as sugar cane, cocoa, and coffee, many American companies had economic interests in the Dominican Republic. As a result, the United States often wielded great influence over the country; they established partial control of the Dominican economy in 1905, and sent the U.S. Marines to quell unrest in 1916. This occupation lasted until 1924.

A general in the Dominican Army, Rafael Trujillo Molina was a leader in the military coup against Dominican President Horacio Vasquez in 1930. He ran for president unopposed later that year, and established a dictatorship. Border clashes with Haiti continued during the early years of his regime and in response, in 1937, Trujillo ordered Dominican troops to massacre thousands of immigrant Haitians. Although his government was cruel and civil liberties were severely curtailed, Trujillo suppressed domestic revolt by implementing improvements in roads, agriculture, sanitation, and education. In 1959 exiled Dominicans based in Cuba made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Trujillo. In 1960, the Organization of American States (OAS) found Trujillo guilty of planning the assassination of the President of Venezuela and so imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on his regime. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961. The first free elections in nearly forty years brought leftist Juan Bosch the presidency in 1962. The military opposed his reforms, however, and overthrew his government in 1963. A civil war broke out in 1965, and U.S. troops once again intervened to restore the status quo. A new constitution was ratified in 1966, and since then presidential elections have been held every four years. The turmoil of the early 1960s, including visits by Trujillo's secret police, are often referred to in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

The ethnic makeup of the Dominican Republic also provides an interesting insight into the novel. Since the original native inhabitants were either driven off or absorbed within the first hundred years of European occupation, most Dominicans are of European, African, or mixed ancestry. While almost three-quarters of the population come from a mixed background, those of European ancestry are more likely to belong to the economic upper-class. The all-black Haitian minority, conversely, are more likely to live below the poverty line. The importance of family background, including name and color, to social standing can be seen in various sections of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

The Cold War
Soon after World War II, Russian leader Joseph Stalin set up satellite communist states in Eastern Europe and Asia. The "cold war" had begun, ushering in a new age of warfare and fear triggered by several circumstances: the United States' and the Soviet Union's emergence as superpowers; each country's ability to use the atomic bomb; and communist expansion and American determination to check it. The Cold War induced anxiety among Americans, who feared both annihilation by the Russians and the spread of communism at home. Panic reached the inner city and suburbia as children practiced air raid drills in school and many families built bomb shelters. Americans were encouraged to stereotype all Russians as barbarians and...

(The entire section is 3,455 words.)