Themes and Meanings
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents explores the personal, social, and political dimensions of the immigrant experience. Julia Alvarez spent her first ten years in the Dominican Republic in circumstances similar to those of her characters. She, too, emigrated to American and spent time “losing her accent.” Like Yolanda, Alvarez is a writer, poet, and teacher. This is a work of fiction, not an autobiography; however, Alvarez uses her personal knowledge of the immigrant experience to inform her novel. That politics force displacement is a major theme in the book. While America may be the land of opportunity for some, it proves to be a land of limited opportunity for others. For Carlos, professional and social status pale in comparison to what he possessed in his former life, though he gains freedom from political tyranny. Mrs. García exchanges her opulent home, servants, and the reputation that comes with being a de la Torre for her discovery and assertion of her intelligence and independence.
Biculturalism is another of the author’s major concerns. Alvarez explores the difficulty her characters have reconciling the two very different cultures that shape their lives. For the García girls, the social liberation of the 1960’s and 1970’s—women’s rights, sexual freedom, drugs, and self-exploration—contradicts the strict behavior prescribed by Latin culture. In their attempts to be good Dominican girls—chaste, respectful of their elders, and obedient to all male relatives—they draw attention to their difference. In adopting more and more American values, they sacrifice an important part of their identity. Assimilation exacts a high personal and social price.