This is the sixth and final profile in my Women's History Month series, Legendary Latinas, in which I highlight the lives and accomplishments of influential Latinas. You can find the other posts here. Please read the disclaimer if you have questions about my sources; otherwise, ENJOY!
This series would not feel complete without highlighting Las Mariposas, Las Hermanas Mirabal -- Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal. For Dominicans, these women represent liberty and freedom. For the rest of the world, they've become symbols of violence against women, and yet many would be hard-pressed to identify their names or their importance. The memory of these women is very dear to me, and I humbly share it with all of you in the hopes that their legacy lives on.
Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa were born in the Dominican Republic in 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1935 respectively. The family grew up wealthy, until the Dominican dictator, Trujillo, took power. Minerva was the first of the sisters to become involved with political activities against Trujillo. There was a constant friction between Minerva and Trujillo -- he wanted to take her in as he had other girls and young women, but she refused. He went on to have her father jailed and denied her a license to practice law after she received her law degree.
Minerva became close to one of the leaders of the movement against Trujillo, Manolo. Many involved in the movement were given codenames, and it was then that Minerva was given the name La Mariposa, which means The Butterfly. María Teresa also began a relationship with another man heavily involved in the movement, Leandro. Within a few years, Minerva, María Teresa and Patria were all married to men in the movement and went on to have six children between the three of them. The sisters were each integral parts of the movement in their own right, and they became known collectively as Las Mariposas. Manolo rose as the leader of the Fourteenth of June Movement, an organized collective with the goal of removing Trujillo from power. The three sisters and their husbands were monitored and targeted by Trujillo. Maria Teresa and Minerva were imprisoned and tortured, as were all three husbands. It was not until public pressure increased that the sisters were released, though their husbands remained in prison.
Trujillo had the Mirabal sisters killed on their way home from visiting their husbands in prison. They were forced to stop on the road and beaten and strangled to death. Although the scene was staged to make it appear as if they died in an accident, the people soon learned what really happened. Because of their death, the movement against Trujillo grew stronger, and he was assassinated 6 months later.
Since their death, the Mirabal sisters have inspired poetry, literature, films, and art. The one surviving Mirabal sister, Dedé, oversees the museum honoring her sisters, Museo Hermanas Mirabal. Perhaps most notably, the United Nations designated November 25, the day of their murder, as the International Day of Violence Against Women. Most recently, a documentary was made about their lives, and another film is in production, starring Michelle Rodriguez as Minerva.
I first learned about the Mirabal sisters when I read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. I knew the novel was based on history, but it was still, after all, a novel. I started to search for information about Las Mariposas to separate fact from fiction, and it was at that point I realized how little there was out there about them, especially in English. Since then, I've tried to teach people about them whenever I get the chance. The work of these women makes me proud to call myself both a woman and Dominican.
It seems a shame to me that so many people I mention these women to have never heard of them. They sacrificed their lives, quite literally, to fight for freedom and justice in a culture of tyranny. They were not stopped by torture, imprisonment, harassment, or separation from their husbands and children or from each other. They knew the cause they were fighting for was more important than any stigma or taboo against them taking on that role.
I did also want to highlight the even lesser-known sister, Dedé. Not having been directly involved in the political movements her sisters participated in, her name is sometimes left out entirely. The people she was closest to in the world all died around her. She became the mother-figure for her sisters' children, in addition to having her own. She took up the task of repeating the story over and over again, passing down the history of the people she loved. I think her leadership should also be an example to the rest of us.
Together, the Mirabal sisters remind us that there is a lot women can accomplish on their own, but even more we can do working together.
For more about the lives of Las Mariposas, you should check out:
The Book of Latina Women: The Mirabal Sisters
Las Hermanas Mirabal, Las Mariposas (Spanish)*
Las Hermanas Mirabal (Spanish)*
*To translate these sites (not very well, I'm afraid), you can use Google Translator.
- At Sun Mar 29, 05:03:00 AM Chally said...
I've so enjoyed this series. Thank you for writing it. I know it must have taken a lot of time and effort. I really appreciate it.
- At Sat Apr 04, 06:01:00 PM BigFred said...
Thank you for this post! I plan on going back and reading the rest of the series. Thanks a lot!
- At Mon Apr 06, 11:51:00 PM frau sally benz said...
Thanks so much for reading, y'all =)
- At Tue Apr 21, 07:25:00 PM Tamely P said...
This is great. I am not even a Latina, but I feel proud for you all!