Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an annual awareness date formed to commemorate the Mirabal sisters.
These Dominican women fought tirelessly against the political regime of Rafael Trujillo, considered one of Latin America’s worst dictators. Despite the leader seizing their property and placing them behind bars, the sisters – Patria, María Argentina Minerva and Antonia María Teresa, remained resilient and continued their mission to restore democracy in their country, a battle that ultimately cost these brave, powerful and feminist women their lives.
Ahead, learn more about the Dominicana feminists who were likely left out of your women’s studies textbooks:
The Mirabal sisters, four in total, came from a well-off family in the rural town of Salcedo in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic. The women were each bright and cultured, with all but one of the hermanas, Bélgica Adela "Dedé" Mirabal, earning college degrees.
Minerva Argentina was the second-youngest sister and the first of them to get involved in the movement to overthrow Trujillo. Her politics were inspired by anti-trujillista Pericles Franco Ornes, who she met in the 1940s, leftist literature and radio programming from Cuba and Venezuela. But the dominicana was always a rebellious mujer, even allegedly turning down Trujillo’s advances. The book “Tres Heroínas y un Tirano,” written by Miguel A. García, discloses that the president once asked the sister what she thought of his political ideology, to which she replied that politics didn’t interest her. Trujillo then asked: “And what if I send my subjects to conquer you?” Minerva’s response was bold. She queried, "And what if I conquer your subjects?"
Though Minvera was the first of her hermanas to participate in the underground anti-Trujillo movement, she wouldn’t be alone long. The three of them helped form a resistance group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, which was named after a rebellion attempt to topple Trujillo’s dictatorship. Together, through distributing pamphlets about Trujillo’s abuses and planning revolts, the sisters, nicknamed Las Mariposas of the movement, helped get a large number of young middle-class Dominicans to oppose the leader, a feat that came with repercussions.
Hundreds of the members of the Movement of the Fourteenth of June were arrested, including Minerva and Maria Teresa, the youngest Mirabal sister. Trujillo hoped that mass incarceration would deter dissenters, but his plan failed when the Catholic Church began to condemn the arrests, generating even more anti-Trujillo sentiments across the country. Minerva and Maria Teresa, along with the other women apprehended, were released.
Sadly, their freedom wouldn’t last long. During a rainy night in 1960, the same year Minerva and Maria Teresa were released from prison, the women and their eldest sister Patria drove home from visiting their husbands, who were still in jail. But their jeep was stopped by a Trujillo henchman, who used a club to beat the sisters and their driver to death. The vehical was later thrown over a cliff in an effort to make the crime scene look like an accident, but no one was buying it. The Dominican people knew Trujillo had ordered the fatal attack, marking the start of the end of his regime. At their time of death, Patria was 36, Minerva was 34 and Maria Teresa was 24.
Since their death, the three Mirabal sisters have been survived by their hermana, Belgica Adela, more popularly known as Dedé. While she never played a role like her sisters in the movement to overthrow Trujillo, she spent the rest of her life caring for their children and making sure that their descendants and the rest of the country remembered the Mirabal legacy. Dedé died of pulmonary complications in 2014.
Before Dedé's death, however, she founded the Mirabal Sisters Museum in 1994, now a major tourist site that sees hundreds of guests each day. Later, in 2009, Dedé gifted the world with “Vivas en su Jardín," a book about her sisters.
The Mirabal sisters are considered national martyrs in the Dominican Republic, with currency and stamps baring their faces.
But the hermanas are also bold and fearless Latina feminist icons, whose story of resistance and resiliency must never be forgotten. In 1994, Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez published "In the Time of the Butterflies," a novel and fictionalized narrative of the Mirabal sisters, which was later turned into a movie starring Salma Hayek, Edward James Olmos and Marc Anthony. More recently, Puerto Rican-Dominican actress Michelle Rodriguez co-produced and starred in a movie about the sisters called "Trópico de Sangre."
Alvarez calls the Mirabal sisters "a reminder that we [Latinas] have our revolutionary heroines, our Che Guevaras, too."
Still, the Mirabals’ legacy extends beyond the Dominican Republic and Latin America. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated Nov. 25, the anniversary of the Mirabal sisters’ death, as the annual date of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The day both celebrates the sisters and marks the start of a 16-day global activism period against gender violence, ending on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.