Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez edit

Brief Biography edit

Julia Alvarez (born March 27, 1950) is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. She was born in New York, but she was only in the United States for three months before her parents, both native Dominicans, decided to return to their homeland. However, when her father got involved with the underground, it became too dangerous for them to stay so they left again in 1960. Her novel, How The García Girls Lost Their Accents, is based on her family circumstances from then and when she had to adapt to discrimination and homesickness.

When she came back to New York at 10 years old, she learned enough English to know that her classmates were not very receptive of her background. However, in spite of this, she paid close attention whenever people talked so she could learn each word. Since she came from an oral culture of storytelling, which she had a talent for, she combined both skills to further her talent as a writer.[1] When she grew up, she made a living as a migrant writer for five years, teaching poetry in schools, until she settled down in one place to work as she taught as a high school level to college level classes. In 1991, she managed to earn tenure at Middlebury College due to some of her previous small publications, and also managed to publish her first book, How The García Girls Lost Their Accents, at the age of 41.

Place in Latina/o Literature edit

According to Lucía M. Suárez, the importance of Alvarez's works can be seen through the more than two hundred articles written about the significance of her position as a Dominican diaspora writer and her exposition of the Latina/o condition.[2] In How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, although the characters are fictional, they are heavily based on Alvarez's personal experiences and history. It is a Coming of Age story that deals with discrimination, assimilation, and losing your identity. Her book is the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to receive fame and attention in the United States because it challenged the assumption of multiculturalism as a positive trait for the immigrant identity. Also, although Alvarez states that her stories are not just about women, critic Ellen McCracken claims that Alvarez's book's narrative centralizes the struggle against the abuse of patriarchal power in the 1990s.[3]

Comparison to Other Latina/o Authors edit

Achy Obejas (born June 28, 1956) is a Cuban American writer and journalist who wrote the short story, We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Can Dress Like This? had a similar premise to Alvarez's How The García Girls Lost Their Accents. Both families were running away from their home country because of each respective leader (Trujillo and Castro). However, since both families were well educated and middle class from the beginning, when they arrived in the United States, they were able to live in relative comfort despite the discrimination and culture shock. However, the daughters of both families reacted somewhat differently to each other regarding their attitude to living in the U.S. Obejas's protagonist had adapted to living in America but she always felt the desire to go back to Cuba. However, although her father longed to go back to Cuba, he was scornful of the communist government Castro represented and hid her passport away so she couldn't go back. For the García Girls, they had adapted to the North American lifestyle and when they were finally able to reunite with their family in the Dominican Republic, they were uncomfortable with the differences between them and their native Dominican family. Alvarez and Obejas both use memory to narrate the girls lives, but using different writing structures. Both of them write their story's timeline in a different order, but Alvarez splits her novel into three parts while Obejas continuously jumps from the past, present, and future.

Analysis of Specific Texts edit

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a 1991 novel that covers the lives of four sisters from their childhood to more than 30 years of their life. However, this novel is divided into three parts and the timeline is told backwards. It opens with the sisters having adapted to American life, but revisiting the Dominican Republic. Part 2 is about how the sisters struggle living in America as immigrants. The last 5 chapters are about their childhood in the Dominican Republic and how their father's involvement against Rafael Trujillo and the Chapitas forced them to relocate to New York, leading up to Part 2.

Her first novel was written in 1991 while she was tenuring in Middlebury College. Susan Bergholz, Alvarez's agent, got Shannon Ravenel to be the editor for How The García Girls Lost Their Accents and it was published by the press, Algonquin Books.

According to William Luis, a major theme for this novel is memory: "As time passes, for the immigrant, the rupture with the past, strongest in political exiles, is transformed into a desire to recover a lost moment in time".[4] The entire novel is based on Alvarez and her family's own experience from her childhood in the Dominican Republic to her adulthood in the Dominican Republic after living in the United States. Since the beginning of the novel starts out with her as an adult, the second and third parts are flashbacks of the past. Although the García sisters had difficulties with homesickness and discrimination when they first migrated to New York, they are able to easily adapt to North American lifestyle as their father is a doctor and has enough income to support the entire family. However, with constant reminders and fears of the past haunting the mother and father, they weren't able to adapt with their daughters. While the García sisters took in American culture and neglected their own Dominican traditions, their parents still treat their daughters as if they were still living in the Dominican Republic. This causes a conflict between them as the daughters struggle with their identities as Americans and Dominicans.[5]

Literary Criticism edit

Jennifer Bess's article about How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents explores the condition of the Miranda Complex. Bless claims that by using this method, Alvarez does not put her characters into the role of victim or oppressor. Since the characters are not classified as either role, they are able to express many different points of view and allow the readers to experience and understand their pain from the loss of their identity and discrimination. For example, the character Yolanda is facing a conflict where her identity is fractured. Although she sympathizes with the people suffering from leaving their homeland and those who cannot, she cannot completely identify with either side. She does not see herself as a Dominican but she cannot see herself as an American either. This leads her to finding her own path to determining her past and identity.[6]

Links to Online Copies of Text edit

Miscellaneous Links edit

Syllabi edit

Bibliography of Secondary Sources edit

  • Alvarez, Julia; Sirias, Silvio; and Garcia Tabor, Maria. "The Truth According to Your Characters: An Interview with Julia Alvarez". Prairie Schooner, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Summer 2000), p. 151-156. Published by: University of Nebraska Press
  • Bess, Jennifer. "Imploding the Miranda Complex in Julia Alvarez's How the García Girls Lost Their Accents". College Literature, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 78-105. Published by: College Literature.
  • Luis, William. "A Search for Identity in Julia Alvarez's: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents". Callaloo, Vol. 23, No. 3, Dominican Republic Literature and Culture (Summer, 2000),p. 839-849. Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • McCracken, Ellen (1999), New Latina Narrative: The Feminine Space of Postmodern Ethnicity, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona. Print.
  • Suárez, Lucía M. "Julia Alvarez and the Anxiety of Latina Representation."Meridians, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2004), p. 117-145. Online.

References edit

  1. Alvarez, Sirias, and Tabor 2000, p. 151
  2. Suárez 2004, p. 119
  3. McCracken 1999, p. 32
  4. Luis p.839
  5. Luis p.842
  6. Bess 2007 p. 80