Carlos Garcia, or Papi, has brought his family to the United States to avoid political persecution in his native Dominican Republic. He is haunted by the fear he felt before emigrating that the Dominican secret police would come for him and his family. Nevertheless, despite building a successful medical practice in New York City, he still reads the Dominican newspaper and dreams about returning to his native country once the dictator has been overthrown.
At a pivotal point in the story, Papi loses his temper with his daughter Yoyo when she reads a speech that questions the authority of her teachers. He is terrified that reading such a speech will put her in danger, just as questioning the government in the Dominican Republic put the entire family in danger. Papi remains entrenched in the traditional ideas about male superiority and female subservience. He is shocked when Laura stands up to him and worries that his wife and daughters are becoming ‘‘independent American women.’’
Laura, or Mami, was raised in the Dominican Republic as a member of a prominent family. Like the rest of the Garcia family, she must make a huge adjustment to the culture of the United States. Laura embraces her increased freedom in the United States, where women can speak up and be successful. She calls her native country a ‘‘savage country,’’ and thinks of herself there as ‘‘only a wife and mother. . . . a high-class houseslave.’’ Laura is an intelligent and creative woman and sees the potential to use her intelligence to make a name for herself in America. However, her traditional background demands that women defer to men and she consistently defers to Papi’s authority.
Yoyo, one of four Garcia daughters, is a budding poet and writer. She is referred to as ‘‘the Big Mouth’’ in the story and is the sister who is selected as the spokesperson when the girls want to do American things like go to the movies or the mall. Nevertheless, she struggles along with her sisters to assimilate into the new culture.
Yoyo seems to find her ‘‘American’’ voice when she writes a speech to be delivered at school inspired by Walt Whitman’s ideas of autonomy and independence. Her mother, who also relishes the new autonomy granted her in America, is thrilled by her speech. However, her father, who carries fears with him born in the repressive regime in the Dominican Republic, becomes infuriated and destroys it. Yoyo angrily calls Papi by Trujillo’s nickname—essentially referring to him as an authoritarian dictator. She later regrets this and finds the compassion to forgive her father. Nevertheless, her father’s gift of a typewriter and Yoyo’s sense that her mother has passed the torch on to her leaves the reader certain that Yoyo will continue to write about autonomy, freedom, and independence.
See Laura Garcia
See Carlos Garcia
Although he does not appear in this story, Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, is mentioned and his presence is felt throughout. Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961. Under Trujillo, Dominican citizens were not allowed to criticize their government; those who did were threatened with disappearances and torture. The story alludes to ‘‘blood in the streets’’ and disappearances in the middle of the night under Trujillo. The family, especially Papi, continues to fear that questioning authority will have horrible consequences.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Julia Alvarez, Published by Gale Group, 2010