In Memoriam: In the Time of the Butterflies


“After the fighting was over and we were a broken people…that’s when I opened my doors, and instead of listening, I started talking. We had lost hope, and we needed a story to understand what had happened to us.”

–Dedé, In the Time of the Butterflies



This November marked the 50th anniversary of the murder of Minerva, Patria, and Maria Theresa Mirabal (also known as the Butterflies, or Las Mariposas) by dictator Rafael Trujillo’s secret police in the Dominican Republic. The three sisters had already been imprisoned several times before they were beaten and suffocated to death on a mountain road in 1960 for opposing Trujillo’s oppressive regime. The fourth sister, Dedé, now 85 years old, is still alive and has dedicated her life to preserving the memory of her sisters by sharing their story at the Mirabal Museum in Salcedo.

The Mirabal sisters

Algonquin author Julia Alvarez, who grew up hearing stories about the Mirabal sisters, and whose family fled the Dominican Republic only months before the tragic deaths, immortalized the sisters’ story in her bestselling novel In the Time of the Butterflies, which was first published in 1994 and has been translated into 13 languages, as well as inspiring a multitude of film and theater adaptations (most recently a dance-theater piece by Eveoke, currently running in San Diego). Butterflies was also named a “Big Read” title by the National Endowment for the Arts last year.

In recognition of this momentous anniversary, every day last month, Julia Alvarez wore a piece of butterfly jewelry to honor the lives of the Mirabal sisters. Her article in AARP Viva last month reflects on the sisters’ legacy, and calls on those of her own generation to serve as inspiring mentors—or Butterflies—for today’s youth.

November 25th, which the UN designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, held a number of special events this year to recognize the tragedy of the Mirabals’ early deaths and pay tribute to their memory. These events included showings of Tropic of Blood (a film about the sisters which was released this year) at several mobile cinemas across the country followed by open discussions about Trujillo’s crimes. Also, a new botanical park was opened in Ojo de Agua, the town where the sisters were born and buried.

Even if you don’t own a butterfly necklace, we urge our readers to join us in honoring the Mirabal sisters and all victims of violence against women. We would like to add Dedé Mirabal, Julia Alvarez, and all those who use storytelling to speak out against injustice to our list of things we are thankful for this holiday season.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, Publicity Assistant

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