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The Time for Butterflies

Inspired by Dominican heroines, author Julia Alvarez urges us to emerge from our cocoons

En español | It is now 50 years since the Mirabal sisters were murdered. Those 50 years mark the beginning of a journey of the Dominican Republic toward democracy. Their murder on November 25, 1960, shocked and mobilized the nation, ultimately toppling the 31-year dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo six months later.

Many of the young people growing up now have never heard of the Mirabal sisters. Or if they have, they think of them as famous heroines in the hazy cloud of history. In fact, they were ordinary women who did something extraordinary: They saw a need for leadership in their community and they came forward to fill it.

A Time For Butterflies

Fifty years ago marks the beginning of my own personal journey. Four months before the murder of the Mirabals, my father, who, like the sisters, was a member of the underground, fled with his family to New York City. We had to reinvent ourselves. My father, a doctor, had to start over, including getting his medical license. My mother had to set up a household, without the support and cariño of her familia. And my three sisters and I — a foursome, just like the Mirabal sisters — had to learn a new language and negotiate that tricky terrain of being bicultural and bilingual, torn between loyalty to the old world my parents represented and the new world that demanded sometimes conflicting things from us.

A Time For Butterflies

We were lucky. Here and there, we found new Butterflies — the code name by which the Mirabal sisters were known — mentors who inspired us, whether in the form of a caring teacher or a stateside tía or an older friend who helped us on our journey to become the women we are today.

A Time For Butterflies

Meanwhile, in those 50 years, the Mirabal sisters spread their wings, their story traveling beyond their small nation to inspire people around the world. In 1999 the United Nations declared the day of their murder, November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

My own parents, now 94 and 84 and both afflicted with Alzheimer’s, made an opposite journey, returning to their native Dominican Republic eight years ago. As with the slain Butterflies, their aspirations and inspiration live on within my sisters and me.

We four have now stepped into their shoes in a very different world. So much has changed. But what has not changed, what will never change, is the need for inspiration, the need for Butterflies.

Copyright © 2010 by Julia Alvarez.  All rights reserved


Julia Alvarez is the author of In the Time of the Butterflies, a historical novel of the Mirabal sisters set in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo dictatorship.


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