I first met the Mirabal sisters in a book club. I found them in the pages of Julie Alvarez’s book _In the Time of the Butterflies_. It’s true that Alvarez took some liberties with their story: she added characters, changed certain events, and gave the sister’s distinct voices that may or may not accurately reflect who the women were. Still, their lives and their sacrifice have stayed with me, ever since we met.
The Mirabals were natives of the Dominican Republic, and lived there during the reign of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled from 1930-1961. They were 4 sisters who lived a quiet life, until they were introduced to some of the darker aspects of their government. Minerva, the second sister, a woman of great beauty with a rebellious spirit, was the first of her sisters to get involved in anti-government activities. She and her husband, Manolo, were part of an underground resistance group called “The 14th of June Movement.” The name of the group came from the day that a failed attempt to topple Trujillo’s regime was conducted. 2 of the sisters, Patria and Maria Teresa, along with their husbands, eventually joined their sister and brother in law in the fight. The fourth sister, Dede, did not participate.
I won’t detail the political maneuverings, but needless to say, their resistance to the regime did not go unnoticed by Trujillo, also called “El Jefe”, and the sisters and their husbands were jailed several times. However, the sisters efforts had also not gone unnoticed by the people, and they became fairly popular public figures. Their code name was “La Mariposas”–the Butterflies.
Trujillo ultimately dealt with the Mirabals in the way he dealt with anybody who opposed him. He had them assassinated, along with their driver, on November 25th, 1960, as they returned from visiting their husbands in prison. Their bodies were found in the car, presumably to make it look like they died in a car accident that resulted in the car falling off of a cliff. However, their bodies were marked in such a way that made it clear that they were beaten and strangled to death.
The deaths of the sisters shook the Dominican people, and it has been suggested that this was the catalyst for the people ultimately rising up against Trujillo. He was assassinated 6 months later, in May of 1961. In 1999, The United Nations General Assembly designated November 25th as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Woman, in commemoration of the sisters.
Ok, you are probably now thinking, Wow, this is all very interesting and all, but what’s the point?
Here’s my point. Besides being revolutionaries, the Mirabals were, all of them, mothers.
They were women who believed in a cause, and they fought for that cause. But in that fight, they made the ultimate sacrifice, and they left their children motherless. They deliberately sought out a course of action that was dangerous to themselves and to their families. This, more than anything else they accomplished, totally blows my mind.
I don’t think I could have done what these women did. Ultimately, you could say they served their country well. And they did not die in vain, as their deaths led to the downfall of an evil dictator. But in serving their country, did they fail to serve their family? Is the greater sacrifice always the better one? Also, my knowledge of the history of the Dominican Republic is hugely limited, so I can’t even say that whatever government replaced Trujillo was better. I don’t know if the sisters’ sacrifice provided a better life for their children, or if Trujillo’s death plunged the country into chaos. The enormity and uncertainty of the outcome of such an event might be enough for me to stay put and make sure my children stayed safe. After all, that seems to be the natural course of action for any mother. Yet these women did anything but that. Would you be willing to risk your family like that?
Like I said, I don’t think I could. But I’m clearly a wuss. And clearly not cut out to save the world.
If you are interested in meeting these women, Julia Alvarez can totally hook you up. It’s a great read, and a good history lesson for those of us who are basically ignorant Americans. And I guarantee you will be touched by the lives of these mothers who, at all costs, fought for what they believed in.
If you don’t have time to read the book, check out the movie. It stars Selma Hayek, so even your husband will be willing to watch it, too.