• Welcome to the Cultural Crossroads Learning Community! We have chosen Julia Alvarez’s book How the García Girls Lost Their Accents as your first-year read. The novel follows four sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia—as they grow up in two cultures when their family is forced to flee to New York City from their home in the Dominican Republic in 1960. In the U.S.A., their parents try to hold on to old traditions, while the girls try to find new lives in a culture far removed from their Caribbean past. (Summary adapted from Algonquin Books, 2019).

    Why Our Community Chose This Book

    Erin Baker, Program Director: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a beautiful coming of age story of four sisters and their experiences as new “immigrants” in New York City. This story transcends time and is still as valuable a tale now as it was then and I cannot wait to hear about your favorite parts of this first-year read with you when we meet in the fall.

    Kat Scollins, Faculty Associate: Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents follows four sisters over thirty years, from their American adulthood back to their Dominican childhood. As a language teacher, I value the book’s focus on language—the attempt to learn one and the resulting loss of another—that lies at the center of the sisters’ cross-cultural quest for identity; as a literature teacher, I admire its complex chronological and narrative structure. But as a human, I respond most to its universal resonance: while it chronicles the particular story of one family’s political migration from the Dominican Republic to New York City, it also relates a universal message about how violent rupture might lead to the possibility of transformation and growth..

    Tina Escaja, Faculty Associate: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a great book for discussing issues of identity and belonging. In these uncertain times, connecting to our roots and to the languages, gender identities, and families that define us fosters healing and reassurance. The García girls show us their captivating journey of progress and loss, never losing sight of what is left behind.

    Ingrid L. Nelson, Faculty Associate: I love literature that conveys multiple points of view in all of their tensions, misunderstandings, humor, and moments of loss and learning. Alvarez shows us that we should expect to experience major life disruptions and changes differently and that life is contradictory and messy, but also beautiful and full of surprises. Every time I read this book, I place its ideas and questions in the context of contemporary issues and events. Doing so helps me to understand the world anew and to keep asking more questions.

    Author Biography

    Born in New York City in 1950, Julia Alvarez's parents returned to their native country, Dominican Republic, shortly after her birth. Ten years later, the family was forced to flee to the United States because of her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow the dictator, Trujillo.

    Alvarez has written novels (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, ¡Yo!, In the Name of Salomé, Saving the World, Afterlife), collections of poems (Homecoming, The Other Side/ El Otro Lado, The Woman I Kept to Myself), nonfiction (Something to Declare, Once Upon A Quinceañera, and A Wedding in Haiti), and numerous books for young readers (including the Tía Lola Stories series, Before We Were Free, Finding Miracles, Return to Sender and Where Do They Go?).

    Alvarez’s awards include the Pura Belpré and Américas Awards for her books for young readers, the Hispanic Heritage Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award. In 2013, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.
    Source: https://www.juliaalvarez.com/about

    Online Resources

Reflection Questions

  1. How does telling the story in reverse affect how you relate to the García family members and their story? Why do you think the author chose to structure her novel this way?
  2. When Yolanda returns to the Dominican Republic and is in the guava grove, she identifies herself as American. Is she Dominican or American? Is it possible to be both?
  3. The four sisters each narrate various chapters of the book. As you are reading, do you find that you connect to one of the girls more than the others? If so, which one and why?
  4. The girls’ mother, Mami, says, “I want to forget the past.” Do you think the Garcías can or should ever forget the past? Has there been a time in your life when you hoped to forget your past?  Do you consider yourself an immigrant in America, why or why not?