I recently finished reading En el Tiempo de las Mariposas by Julia Alvarez. Ms. Alvarez's parents were members of the underground resistance in the Dominican Republic during the final years of the infamous Trujillo dictatorship. The Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa — known as "las Mariposas" or the Butterflies — were leading figures in that resistance, and were ambushed and murdered by Trujillo's henchmen in late 1960. Their martyrdom has made them icons of freedom in the Dominican Republic.
Alvarez's book is a fictional account of the lives of las Mariposas, told variously from their own points of view and from the perspective of their surviving sister Dedé, who was not actively involved in the resistance movement. Dedé is still alive and oversees the operations of the Mirabal Museum in her hometown of Ojo de Agua. (Here's a recent( September 2006) article about Dedé, if you are interested, and can read Spanish.)
I thoroughly enjoyed En el Tiempo de las Mariposas, and it aroused my interest in the troubled political history of the Dominican Republic in a way that an academic work of non-fiction probably would not have. The story of these women's bravery, their struggle for the liberation of their country and the principles of freedom is inspiring.
But the part of the book that has stuck with me most is the epilogue, the musings attributed to Dedé, the survivor, but maybe more representative of the opinions and feelings of Julia Alvarez, the author. Dedé reflects on the 30 or so years since Trujillo's regime fell (he was assassinated just a few months after Las Mariposas were killed). Since then, she says (and I paraphrase), Dominicans have been free to choose their own bad leaders. The country has become a vacation hotspot for "gringos", and free trade zones, where poor Dominicans provide cheap labour to produce consumer goods for the global market, have proliferated. Meanwhile the gaps between rich and poor in the D.R. continue to grow, and Dedé remarks in passing on the lavish and luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by some of her friends and family. It is from her perspective as survivor that Dedé is able to see the aftermath of the resistance, to look back (and to try to look forward) on the path that her country is on, and to ponder, "Was this really what the struggle was about? Are these the freedoms that my sisters fought for, is this the liberation that they died for?"
These are the sorts of questions that perhaps have resonance with many Caribbean people in these early years of the new millenium, now that the labour struggles of the 1930s and the bold moves towards independence from the 1960s have entered the abstract domain of "History". As I look around my own country, I'm not quite sure what the answers are, but I am grateful to Ms. Alvarez for provoking me to think about it, for the questions are certainly worth asking.