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Monday, September 29, 2014

Commemorating The Memory Of The Mirabal Sisters: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month


Women For Action honors the Mirabal sisters, a group of women freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives to set the Dominican Republic free from a brutal regime. In the heart of the 1950s, the Mirabal Sisters ignited a grassroots coalition composed of men and women which educated the public and further exposed the efforts of Rafael Trujillo’s regime. The sisters adopted the name Las Mariposas ("The Butterflies"). Butterfly was an underground  name given to Minerva Mirabal who was the second of the sisters, for her leadership and resistance.

Minerva was a young woman who had dreams of becoming a lawyer. Upon being invited to a special celebration by her suitor, the General himself, she disclosed her bright ambitions. General Trujillo granted her the opportunity to attend law school. Yet she only obtained a degree (which was put off by a few years by the General) and was never able to retrieve a license, due to Trujillo's bitterness towards her unreturned admiration. Minerva’s perception of Trujillo had already been shaping, due to her uncle's influence and those of her peers, who had faced family tragedies, falling prey to the bully regime. 

Minerva and her sisters had plans to overthrow the regime, forming a group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June.  Yet their activities got back to Trujillo, who soon imprisoned two of the sisters (Minerva and her sister Maria Teresa), all the Butterflies’ husbands and many other participants. Due to the pressures from the international community, Trujillo released the two women. He eventually freed the rest of the parties involved, except for the Butterflies’ husbands. 

On November 25 1960, after the Mirabal sisters visited their husbands in prison (Their sister Dedé also known as Bélgica Adela stayed behind to watch over their children), they were pulled over in their jeeps and beaten to death. Their deaths incited outrage and disapproval from the Dominican people who quickly suspected Trujillo as the conspirator.  This led to his assassination the following year. The death of the Mirabal sisters had a great impact on the Dominican society, though it had not been officially acknowledged until the 1990s, when the country recognized Patria Mercede, Minerva Argentina and Antonia Maria Teresa as national martyrs, and incorporated them in history lessons.

Their sister Dede devoted her life and work to honor her sisters’ legacy. In 1992, she founded the Mirabal Sisters Foundation and in 1994, the Mirabal Sisters Museum in her hometown Salcedo. A Dominican-American author by the name of Julia Alvarez published a novel titled, In the Time of the Butterflies to commemorate their stories.

I was born in New York City during my parents' first and failed stay in the United States. When I was three months old, my parents, both native Dominicans, decided to return to their homeland, preferring the dictatorship of Trujillo to the U.S.A. of the early 50s. Once again, my father got involved in the underground and soon my family was in deep trouble. We left hurriedly in 1960, four months before the founders of that underground, the Mirabal sisters, were brutally murdered by the dictatorship,” said Julia Alvarez.

The novel turned movie in 2001, was directed by Spanish film director and screenwriter Mariano Barroso. The film brought the lives of these brave women to the center-stage and starred Mexican and American film actress Salma Hayek as Minerva, a stark opponent of violence used against women. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the annual date of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in commemoration of the sisters.

This year on February 1, Dede died at the age of 88, leaving behind their legacy and story. We recognize these women as heroines who have become an international symbol of equality, freedom and human rights for all human beings.


Photo Sources:

  1. Mirabal Sisters’ sculpture (Photo via)
  2. Photo of Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa (Photo via)
  3. Commemoration stamp of Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa (Photo via)
  4. Dedé (Photo via)
  5. Mirabal sisters on the $200 peso bill (Photo via)
  6. Dedé on cover of Panorama Latino (Photo via)
  7. Rafael Trujillo (Photo via)
  8. Rafael Trujillo (Photo via)
  9. Julia Alvarez (Photo via)
  10. The book, In The Time of The Butterflies (Photo via)
  11. The film, In The Time of The Butterflies (Photo via)
  12. Salma Hayek, Bring Back Our Girls (Photo via)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11: Out of the Rubble, Captain Brenda Berkman


In Honor of September 11, We Commemorate the hard work and achievements of Captain Brenda Berkman

In 1977 after an eleven year hiring freeze, The New York Fire Department was required by law to hire women firefighters for the first time due to the earlier passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  But instead, the fire department issued a bogus physical test that no woman could pass. Brenda Berkman was a law student and marathon runner at the time who sued the fire department on the grounds of gender discrimination. She was amongst the first class of women to be hired by the New York City Fire Department in 1982.  In those early years, 42 women firefighters stood alongside of  Berkman. However, the numbers dropped by 9/11. There were only 25 female firefighters out of the  11,000 or so firefighters in the FDNY.

Berkman also started the United Women Firefighters an organization for women within the New York City Fire Department, named a White House fellow in 1996 and was Director of Women First Responders of 9/11.

Amongst her many awards and achievements, she has obtained the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women in 1984, the Women of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women in 2002. For her support of labor history and labor archives, she was honored by the New York Labor History Association in 2005.

On that eerie day of September 11th 2001, Captain Brenda Berkman found herself amongst the rubble which was piled seven stories high, attempting to locate survivors. Though the voices of people could no longer be heard, she did what she knew to do- risk her life while hoping that she could save others :

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge toward lower Manhattan, Lt. Brenda Berkman edged a borrowed police van through a solid wall of people covered in gray ash and walking in the opposite direction.
The veteran New York City firefighter had taken Sept. 11 off -- election day -- to work as a volunteer for a political candidate. But when she heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, she raced the 15 minutes from her Brooklyn home toward her old Brooklyn firehouse and borrowed gear from a buddy whose crew already had been dispatched to ground zero.
"When I got there, you didn't hear any people," Berkman said. "You heard car alarms and explosions. There was a lot of noise, but you didn't hear people."
For the next two months, she lived and breathed disaster. She worked numbing shifts at ground zero, then retreated, exhausted, to her Ladder Co. 12 firehouse in the Chelsea area of Manhattan to grab a meal or a few hours' rest, counsel other firefighters, plan funerals and try to clear her lungs of the noxious smoke. Every firefighter she knew had developed "the cough."
Of the 343 firefighters who died at ground zero, Berkman knew 250. Some days there were 10 memorial services. It grieved her that she couldn't get to every one. She lost five people from her Chelsea firehouse and six others from her old station in Brooklyn.

--But it hurts Berkman that women rescuers -- who stood shoulder to shoulder with the men at ground zero -- have been so roundly ignored by the media that the term fireman has returned to vogue.-- "I don't think it's patriotic to show just one group of people on the job," said Berkman --
Berkman said she fears that ignoring the sacrifices of female disaster workers will revive prejudices that women can't do the very work to which she has devoted her adult life...

None of this is meant to, in any way, take away from the heroism of the men who were down there. It's simply stating the fact: There were women serving right alongside the men in exactly the same roles putting their lives on the line exactly the same way.

None of the women down there were looking for their 15 minutes of fame or any of that nonsense, it wasn't like Dancing with the Stars. I wasn't so interested in my personal story, I was interested in the story of women at this paradigm-changing event in world history where things are not going to be like they were [before]. Women were part of all of that. And we simply want to have it recognized.

[These women] were patriots. They were self sacrificing, and they were brave, and they were hard-working, and they were taking risks, and they were serving their community. I mean, how inspiring is that? Why wouldn't you want to tell that story?” said Berkman.