Dominican We Are What We Eat focus on Food, Gender, and Identity


Dominican:We Are What We Eat: focus on Food, Gender, and Identity

Introductionand Analysis of “How Garcia girls lost their accent”

Thecontext in “How the Garcia Girls lost their accents” shows thestruggle in guest for solidarity in midst of all the hardships theywere going through, like family disputes, cultural changes anddivorces. Julia Alvarez was a Dominican native just like Garciasisters and had migrated to United States in 1960. In the currentnovel, geographic proximity as well as continuing and historicalpolitical influences distinguishes Dominicans from rest of theimmigrant groups. The protagonists in the novel are likened to theDominican immigrants and their experiences like the painfuldislocation of the family ties and the difficult culturalreadjustments. Though Garcia girls enjoyed life to some extent, theDominicans never enjoyed such. As such, they perceive hardship incomparison to luxurious and lavish lives in Dominican Republic.

Thereis an interpersonal conflict in the Garcia family, which occurs whenthe family leaves the Dominican Republic. Since the extended familyexperiences fragmentation, the nuclear family faces dissolution. Thisexplains why the girls separate from other family members as theymature the separation can be evidenced by the distance the womencreate between their parents and relatives. With their incorporationinto the American culture, the girls forget their traditions, roots,as well as cultural perspectives. The situation even becomes worsewhen the girls begin their own families within the United Statessetting. This further separates them from their family members sinceit keeps them apart. Their language is altered completely and theyadopt an American accent, which they use while communicating. Thegirls forget about their Dominican origin.

Forthe Hispanic communities living in United States, question on whetherGarcia girls have indeed lost their accents is critical. The Hispaniccommunities had not fully integrated into the mainstream system asprevious immigrant communities. In the novel, Alvarez shows the needto retain access to culture and language of their native countrywhile incorporating themselves into the economy, political andcultural system of the new country (Castellanos34).

Causesfor the immigration among the Dominicans have been changing overtime. The major cause for immigration was to flee from social andpolitical instability. Those that opposed and feared the new regimeimmigrated to U.S. in notable numbers. However, as time went on, thepolitical situation in Dominican Republic stabilized. Immigrationcontinued even after political stability due to poor economicconditions and limited employment opportunities(Castellanos 35).

HowTraditional Food Shape the Identity of Dominicans

Afterimmigration to United States, Dominicans did not abandon theirculture and country of origin. They never embraced the culture in thecountry of immigration wholly. However, Dominicans adopted somecertain characteristics of the ways of life if Americans. The regularreturn of the migrants to Caribbean as well as settling in areas thatwere localized and dominated by Dominicans indicates the highprobability of maintaining their cultures. Most of the Dominicanculture is regarded as revolting and tasteless by the upper class.Studies show that the Dominican culture is very different with thatof island family and occupational profile of the islanders (Marte90).

TheDominican culture is normally overlooked by most Americans as thepoorest and most illiterate where they place burdens on state andfederal social services. Nevertheless, research indicates that allthese are misconceptions by Americans. For instance, the migrants whowent back to Dominican Republic in between 1986 and 1991 comprised ofover 15,000 professionals(Marte 91).

However,the poor quality of life in Dominican Republic resulted into foodriots and violence in the country. Currently, many Dominicans operategrocery stores and sell toiletries and food products from America,Latin America, and Caribbean used in cooking Dominican foods.Dominicans in America continued with their culture of preparing thetraditional Dominican dishes. Inthe Dominican Republic mainly serve the main meal at midday. Thismeal is taken in a social setup among family members and can last forup to two hours(Alvarez 45).This is highly different in New York where the society is intenselybusy and cannot afford to indulge in such on a daily busy. Furtherprovides that one of the popular dishes among the society in theDominican Republic is LaBandera (theflag). This dish comprises of rice, beans, and stewed meat. This mealis symbolic to the Dominicans as the white rice and red beans act asa reminder of the colors of their national flag. This meal iscommonly served with fried plantain and salad. Sancochois another favorite dish among the people of Dominica. This dishcomprises of a slice of meat, plantain, and vegetable stew. Thepeople of Santa Domingo love dining out especially during theweekends and holidays. The restaurants in this region favor thisculture, as they are superior and reasonably priced. This contrast tothe many restaurants in New York that are preferred for dining areusually premium priced (Marte94).

Since1500s, mangúremained the staple food among the Dominicans, both in the diasporaand their country. Mangú comprises of boiled and mashed plantain,and though not claimed openly as national, it is among the majorareas for self-representation for most Dominicans in the diaspora,particularly in New York City. Mangú is among the oldest stapledishes in Dominican Republic. The green plantains were major mealsgiven to slaves, especially because they were easily prepared inlarge batches. In Dominican Republic, procurement of foodstuffs hasbeen challenging, with plantains being at the verge of becomingluxury items (Alvarez 46). The meaning and place of plantain amongthe Dominicans are so strong such that they hold national strikes andprotests to demand the stabilization of the prices. The preparationof mangú among the Dominicans in the diaspora is changing(Luis 839).Mangú represents the experiences of the Dominican immigrants`experiences, more than the national flag does. Meals like rice, meat,beans and other luxury foods are considered to generic and indexesfailures and raptures of the Dominican State.

Theprominence of these staple foods among the Dominicans both indiaspora and Dominican Republic serves to explore the contestednarratives that show the regional experience and reveal that economicstruggles experienced by the Dominicans. The Dominican migrants arewell aware of ironic representation of the la Bandera where many wereunable to complete in concreteness if their plates. Normally, thosethat were able to afford rice and meat could at times sacrifice andbut food to their abandoned members in preparation for the laBandera, which symbolized health and unity of the nation. As aresult, Bandera is still contested even today, both in DominicanRepublic and New York. Its presence among the Dominicans in UnitedStates is an indirect reflection of the failure of the national flagin ending poverty, trauma, and repression suffered in the era ofTrujillo dictatorial leadership (Alvarez 47).

Continuumof the significance of mangú among the Dominicans contrasts thecontext and matters of scale on how individuals and groups negotiatefor cultural changes, while busy making histories, as well as valuesin travelling, nation and home, which act as dichotomies of giganticand miniature. This positioned opposition and the implicit violationsof gender.

Roleof process migration among Dominican immigrants in terms of equalityof genders

TheDominican family in America can be perceived in a whole differentperspective with the one in Dominican Republic. The relationshipbetween the kin is very vital for a Dominican family in America(Alvarez48).However, the families tend towards becoming more nuclear whileDominicans in Caribbean has a high likelihood of being non-nuclear.Also, gender roles have been changing after migration. Normally,Dominican family is patriarchal where males act as the heads of thefamily and exercise control over the budgets within the householdsand are decision makers in their families. On the other hand, femalesare in charge of all the domestic chores and maintain their families.However, among the Dominican migrants, this pattern is slowlychanging. The Dominican women immigrants in United States have alwaysdemanded more control on duties that previously belonged to men. Theyhave become the co-breadwinner, and this has empowered them tochallenge the authority of males within their households (Alvarez49)

Suchchanges are major reflection of the changes that have taken place inorganization and structure of a Dominican family. While there are nospecific or authoritative treatments, it is reasonable enough toconclude that gender relations have changed, both in marriages anddating couples. Research has indicated a considerable growth ofsingle-parents among the Dominicans in America. By 1997, over 50percent of households in America were headed by women. The expertsattributed this to the immigration process that resulted to long-termseparation with families. Other reasons were lack of formal marriagesamongst Dominicans and economic pressures in America. Failure of manymen to fulfill their roles as providers, where many abandoned theirfamilies, resulted in too many families becoming destitute (Luis839).

Manywomen who were left did not have jobs and never knew English. As aresult, they were compelled to scrape by with the assistance of thepublic to enable them support their families. Their only home was toget their children to school. Education was highly esteemed among theDominican. Certainly, the migrants seemed to be more educated thanthose that remained behind. The migrants fought significant politicalbattles on education. For instance, in Washington, the Dominicansorganized to voice their concerns regarding education to the localschool board. Despite the majority of students being of Dominicanorigin, the board was dominated by non-Dominicans (Luis839).

Mangúand plantains have clear connotations gendered in the social,historical and cultural production. Within the Dominican Republic,men are involved in the cultivation of plantains in a grade scalewhile females cultivate in small subsistence plots. The texture,shape and perception of the plantain as a strong meal meant torestore the labor energy are considered as a masculine index. Yet,conversion of raw produce into physically and culturally digestiblefood takes place exclusively from its preparation as a meal throughdomestic labor from women. The women were involved in cooking themashed plantains since Mangú is an indexical of the labor andcultural knowledge of women(Luis 840).

Somethinginteresting about the degree of softness and consumption of themashed plantains is that it was considered to enhance hardness of theworkers. According to Levi-Strauss’s dichotomy, women are at thenature end while men are at the culture end of nature-culturecontinuum. In this context, a masculine hard nation, erect like aplantain, is culturally produced through the alchemical and softlabor transformations by women who feed their foods and bodies so asto sustain their homes and community (Luis841).

Howfood connects Dominicans to their heredity

Thetrans local connotation of mangúis that it acts as both Dominican and foundational meal. Theyconsider it as an index of being a Dominican in New York. This is anillustration of reversal mangúamong the Dominican women in the diaspora. The ritual practicesassociated with cooking, eating and serving reveal the class genderedand racial socialization of cooks within the Dominican Republic. Thisalso illustrates the family-community histories in various regionswhen the Dominicans migrated, as well as the decade they went toUnited States. Most participants arrived in New York in the time ofReagan administration as well as the reign of neoliberal policies(Alvarez50).

Theparticipants highly esteem mangú though not all of them couldprepare it regularly. Instead, this was prepared for specialoccasions and upon request after a craving antojo,the major difference is that while in Dominican Republic, theimmigrants never cooked it themselves as their mothers could do thecooking. These, among other food practices and experiences, exhibitremarkable consistency associated with preparation, addition of coldwater until mashing stage, as well as keeping it soft, were among themajor things that promoted their identity (Alvarez51).

Theseprivate routes associated with the Dominican’s foods reflect thecollective and public routes within a Dominican state as well as thenational project that has failed in giving people their basic needs.This prompted many Dominicans to migrate. Food among the Dominican isnot only a mark of identity but a sign of cultural work and socialaction. Food also reveals the strategic political choices, culturalmemory and self-worth(Llorente75).

Peelingthe plantains and the entire process of preparing Mangúreflects skills and art form, as well as a gendered culturalperformance. The preparation of the plantain requires energy,strength, dedication, and time. According to the research, people indiaspora love Mangú because it reminds them of their identity.Whether they are mashed or not, plantains are popularly used amongthe Dominicans in the diaspora to deliver asure message that concerns the gendered tensions and conflicts thatoccur in household relationships. They express negotiations of poweroutside households in reclamation of inclusion in both the UnitedStates and Dominican Republic(Llorente 76).


Inseasoning the mangú,identities, and their lives in New York, Dominicans in the diasporakept reimagining the space for their survival after the long Cimarronstruggles. Studiesreveal that relocating from the Dominican Republic to the UnitedStates presents significant impacts on the culture and values ofthose concerned. This is in accordance to the exile of the Garciafamily to the United States from the Dominican Republic as describedby the text, Howthe Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.The Garcia sisters were raised in the United States where theyreceived their best education. Luis (2000) argues that although theGarcia sisters had lived among the privileged class in the DominicanRepublic, this was not the same in the United States, as they nowperceived themselves as common Hispanic immigrants. These two textsand others are especially important in this study as they providereal life examples of how living in the foreign land impacts on one`sculture and identity.

Foodis significant in the history of Dominicans as it points to theformation of the eco-materials of Dominican realities and powerbecause of its representation of creative agency and culturalresilience for most of the Dominicans. It is through the action ofpeeling and staining oneself during preparation of plantain that theDominicans experience their resistance towards discrimination.Therefore, the Dominican meals that were for slaves and animals werere-seasoned and reinvented to become a good cuisine and emblem ofdesire for freedom. This continues to fulfill such even today for theDominican immigrants who struggle towards a dignified survival ingeographies that are diversified.


Alvarez,Julia. Howthe García Girls Lost Their Accents.Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010. Print.

Castellanos,Ricardo. &quotThe Silence of Exile in &quothow the García GirlsLost Their Accents&quot. BilingualReview / La Revista Bilingüe.26.1 (2001): 34-42. Print.

Duany,Jorge. Quisqueyaon the Hudson: The Transnational Identity of Dominicans in WashingtonHeights.New York, NY: CUNY, Dominican Studies Inst, 2008. Print.

Llorente,Manuela. And Why Did The Garcia Girls Lose Their Accents? Language,Identity and the Immigrant Experience in Julia Alvarez’s: How TheGarcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Universidadde Sevilla8(2001): 69-75. Print.

Luis,William. &quotA Search for Identity in Julia Alvarez`s `how theGarcía Girls Lost Their Accents.”Callaloo:a Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters.23.3 (2000): 839-849. Print.

Marte,Lidia. MigrantSeasonings: Contexts, Relations and Histories.Austin, Tex: University of Texas, n.d. Print.