Las Hermanas Mirabal, (or Mirabal Sisters), are four sisters from the Dominican Republic who bravely opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, changing the future of their country forever.
If this story seems familiar, it’s because author Julia Alvarez wrote a fictionalized account of the sisters in her novel In the Time of the Butterflies. Alvarez’s novel was later adapted into a film of the same name starring actress Salma Hayek. En El Tiempo de Las Mariposas is also currently on stage at Repertorio Español in New York.
The Mirabal sisters, Patria Mercedes, Bélgica Adela (“Dedé”), María Argentina Minerva, and Antonia María Teresa – were all part of an affluent family favored by the Trujillo regime during the 1940’s and 50’s. Daughters of a prosperous businessman, all four sisters were well-educated in a time when women usually were not. Minerva in particular studied law and as a result of conversations with an uncle, became very passionate about playing a role in the anti-Trujillo movement. She and her sisters formed an opposition group, and within that group they were known as “Las Mariposas,” (“the butterflies”.)
Rafael Trujillo renamed cities and landmarks after himself, had statues erected, and used his power to gain wealth by repressing the freedoms of the Dominican people. Those who spoke out against him were “disappeared.”
One of Trujillo’s most notable atrocities was against the Haitian people. In 1937 Trujillo made agreements with then Haitian president, Stenio Vincent, which would allow for the immigration of Haitians into the Dominican Republic. When Trujillo changed his mind and sought to regain control of the border, he developed a system in which any person who could not pronounce the letter “r” in “perejil”, (parsley) would be killed. (The “r” is difficult for Haitians to pronounce.) As a result of this policy, thousands of Haitians were murdered.
Trujillo’s ruthless reputation did not deter the sisters. Over the years the Mirabal sisters themselves were imprisoned, threatened and tortured by Trujillo’s regime, but nothing they endured caused them to go silent or stop fighting for what they believed in. Ultimately three of the sisters, Patria, Minerva and María Teresa were killed. On November 25 1960, the three sisters went to visit their husbands who had been incarcerated. On the way home, they and their driver were stopped. Taken into a field, they were beaten and strangled to death before being put back into their car. The car was then pushed off a cliff so it would appear to be an accident.
The fourth sister “Dedé” was not with her sisters the night they were killed, and she has lived the rest of her life honoring her sisters contribution to the Dominican Republic by building a museum about them which still exists on the outskirts of a town by the name of Salcedo, where the sisters lived.
If Trujillo and those who supported him, thought that murdering the sisters would bring an end to his opposition, they were wrong. Most historians agree that the murder of the Mirabal sisters was a turning point. Outraged by their senseless deaths, the people fought harder than ever against the regime. The Catholic Church, as a result of the sisters’ murders, became more openly critical of Trujillo’s regime which strengthened the resistance movement.
On May 30, 1961, Trujillo was assassinated. The memory of the Hermanas Mirabales and the inspiration they gave to the Dominican people, live on.
“What matters is the quality of a person. What someone is inside themselves.” – Maria Teresa Mirabal
Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.