By: Irene Sanchez
The Southwest Political Report
November 25, 1960
This was the day the Mirabal sisters-Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa-were brutally murdered in the Dominican Republic after they fought against the dictator-U.S. installed and supported dictator-Rafael Trujillo. The Mirabal sisters, also known as “Las Mariposas”, story was depicted in the book, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (1994) which was also the basis of a later movie (2001).
The Mirabal sisters were from a wealthier family and had all went to school, married, and became political activists after they were targeted by the Trujillo dictatorship. One sister, Minerva had become a target of Trujillo. She went to law school at a time women were not allowed, but upon graduation was denied by the government to practice law. The family lost a lot of money and many members including the sisters husbands would go to prison, as the sisters were involved in attempts to oust Trujillo. The three of them helped to form a resistance group called The Fourteenth of June. When an attempt to assassinate Trujillo was exposed and more international pressure came down on his dictatorship, Trujillo ordered the sisters killed. Although they died, the murder of the sisters became the spark to overthrow Trujillo six months later.
Their youngest sister Dede, although never involved with the movement like her sisters, continued to care for their children and ensure that the sisters were remembered for their legacy until her death in 2014.
In 1981 activists named November 25th as a day to raise awareness of violence against women but it wasn’t until December 17, 1999, that the day, November 25th was designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in their honor.
I first learned of the day in my early years in community college when I was about 20 years old. As a young M.E.Chista, I reserved the small boardroom at my community college to show screenings of the film and raise awareness. I then became a certified sexual assault crisis counselor a year later. One of the first events I organized was around VDAY, events that were held and still are held around the performance of Eve Ensler’s play the Vagina Monologues. I saw in her special spotlight that year on the women of Juarez, there were many more struggles in other places women were facing that were not being given attention. Following organizing my school’s first production, I organized and wrote letters to bring Norma Cruz to the U.S. for the first time. Norma Cruz is the woman who opened the first rape crisis center in Guatemala. Norma Cruz continues this work, even in face of death threats and violence. With recent events revolving around Temporary Protected Status I looked and saw how Guatemala had applied for TPS for many years and were always denied and in looking at political events or we must constantly urged to ask why. Why are some struggles less visible or is it that we learn to value certain places and people less?
I ask why as I look back on these times and how I have survived violence since then and how so many of us have survived and continue to survive and the various challenges women face in their homes, facing domestic violence, to the workplace and the streets being targets of this violent misogynistic and patriarchal society. These events have recently sparked widespread media attention in the U.S. with #metoo but we must not let these issues become another hashtag trend, these issues are urgent and must be confronted on so many levels, in so many places. This is what the founder of me too Tarana Burke reminded us of. Tarana Burke has been engaging in this work for many years before the phrase became a hashtag trend, she reminds us of the commitment that is needed to confront gender based violence.
November 25thmarks the beginning of these days were these issues come to light on an international level for only 16 days a year, but in order to tackle these issues head on, we need to do this work 365 days a year.
There are many challenges and battles ahead of us and currently and that we will face as a war continues to be waged against Native women all over the world, but as we saw just a year ago when Standing Rock was brought into the public eye. In the U.S. we have passed a year from the election of a white nationalist misogynistic president who is calling for violence and removal of anyone who isn’t white will mean that the attack on poor, immigrants, and people of color and women of color will intensify more than it already has.
It is hard in these times not to feel hopeless or to feel defeated, but then I remember what is at stake? I look at my son and think what will these battles mean for future generations? What will these battles mean for our earth? People like Berta Cáceres wh was murdered (with U.S. involvement) defending land and life in Honduras remind us “We must undertake struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one and we have to take action.”
The violence that transgender people face cannot be ignored in these discussions. In 2016, 23 transgender people were killed in the U.S and in 2017 the number has rised to 25 as reported by the Human Rights Campaign. We must confront all forms of gender based violence when we are talking about these 16 days. I conclude with these words of the Mirabal sisters-whose words continue to be applicable to today’s times like the 1950s, like 1960, like 1981, like the early 2000s, like 2016…the struggle for a more just world continues…
Que vivan las mariposas all over the world! Those who still walk with us and those whose spirit guides us.
“We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime, we have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, including my life if necessary”.-Patria Mirabal
“….it is a source of happiness to do whatever can be done for our country that suffers so many anguishes, it is sad to stay with one’s arms crossed…”-Minerva Mirabal
“…..perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me, we shall continue to fight for that which is just..”-Maria Teresa Mirabal
Photo: The Mirabal Sisters