“Little Women” was our favorite book in English. My sisters and I discovered it soon after arriving in this country. It was the only book we had ever read about an all-girl family of four sisters, just like ours. I don’t know how many times we read and reread that book. We couldn’t get enough of these strong, lively, resilient March girls. Wow, what an accurate portrayal of sisterhood and all its complexities. What a critical story for us at this juncture in our lives, when we, too, were facing so many changes, losses, challenges to the certainties we had known. Check, check, check.
The March girls were white New Englanders, and we were newly arrived immigrants from a dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, but there the differences stopped and the uncanny similarities began — down to our very names. The first letter of each sister’s name was the same as each of ours, in the same birth order: Margaret-Meg/Maury; Jo/Julia; Elizabeth-Beth/Estela; Amy/Ana. Our personalities and passions matched our twin character. (I, Julia/Jo, wanted to be a writer.)
Long before “multicultural literature,” before we would find our faces or traditions or histories in American literature, we found our reflection here. The novel beamed me a powerful message that stories were about what we shared with other people, families, sisters — even a story that wasn’t overtly about us. Conversely, it meant that someday, if Jo/Julia wrote about the Mirabal sisters or the García girls, readers from other backgrounds might find themselves in my stories, too. Louisa May Alcott was one of my first muses. (A for Alvarez, check again!)