By Will Nisbet and Connie Pinkerton
Today presented the opportunity to venture into the mountainous interior of the DR to visit the museum and childhood home of the Mirabal sisters. The sisters are an emblem of hope, change, and sacrifice for the country due to their tragic death from political activism against the Trujillo regime in 1960. While traveling to meet their husbands in jail (on political charges) the sisters and their driver were beaten to death, then placed back in their jeep and pushed over a cliff. Responsibility for the “accident” has never been admitted, yet in popular belief the deaths inspired the symbol of the mariposa, or butterfly, as a representation of rebirth for the country. The resulting furor galvanized political groups and led to the consequent assassination of Trujillo the next year.
Roving over the lush green mountains and into the valley of Salcedo, a feeling of tranquility (and cooler temperatures) was evident as we pulled into the well-manicured gardens and open museum. The museum is actually the home of the Mirabal parents, and where the four sisters lived with their children and mother while their husbands were imprisoned. The home has been left perfectly intact from the 1950s with the original furnishings and details. We were able to walk through the rooms and bedrooms of the sisters, observing artifacts from their lives and their graves as well.
Each member of our group experienced a range of emotions in the presence of such personal items. It was eerily connective to walk in another’s home and feel a sense of personal loss. Some members invoked the Nobis Big Ideas of power, privilege, and race in relation to their deaths. With the many thousands killed under the Trujillo regime, is the sisters’ notoriety due to their wealth, position, and lighter skin? Is the emotional toll and impact larger because they are women and have a tragic story? Or conversely, are they martyred because instead of safely staying behind their walls of privilege they fought for the cause of the common citizen?
Another of the Nobis Big Ideas is to understand history and the connections that weave through the past, present, and future. The choice of the butterfly – the “mariposa” – as the name of the Foundation and the Center in Cabarete became especially poignant after our visit to the museum. The obvious link to the butterfly is the transformation the girls experience as they go through the program. The Nobis crew learned through our readings and site visits that, during their underground activities, the Mirabal sisters used Mariposa as their code names. Today the Mariposa Foundation is giving wings to a new group of butterflies.