When people think of the Dominican Republic in the twentieth century, two words most often come to mind: Rafael Trujillo. He ruled the island nation from 1930 to 1961. His dictatorship was defined by greed, a rigid control over the Dominican people, and unspeakable brutality. But many would also have people remember another history of the Dominican Republic, a history of brave resistance and immense sacrifice. Two different words come to mind when thinking of this history: Las Mariposas, or The Butterflies. These were the code names of Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria Mirabal, three sisters who were key members in an underground movement to overthrow Trujillo. On November 25, 1960, the dictator's men ambushed their car, and the sisters were beaten to death. Since that time, they have become symbols of courage, dignity, and strength in their country.
In 1994, Julia Alvarez brought the Mirabals' story to an American audience through her novel In the Time of the Butterflies. Alvarez's connections to this story run deep, since her own parents were involved in the underground movement and fled to America before being arrested. She does not write a history or a biography, however. She fictionalizes the Mirabal sisters and depicts their lives through the voices she creates for them. She even includes Dedé Mirabal, the only sister to survive, as a voice of the present reflecting on the past. Through her characters, she stresses the need to remember the past, even times of great pain, while also striving for happiness in the present and the future. Perhaps more importantly, she stresses the need to see heroes not as superhuman, but as people who fight their own fears in order to fight injustice.