There is a faded, tonal colored, creased photograph in a golden frame of an elder- what once appeared to me a white-skinned man. He has the most perfect combed back white hair. His skin looks like it never saw a pimple in its life. His eyes glistened with sincerity, humility, caring, and ambition. His mustache expresses greatness- I remember being told as a child that a mustache distinguished the might of a man. His white shirt, multicolored tie, and black suit-tell us that this man was important.
The photograph hung in the backyard porch of Papá Pancho, my paternal grandmother’s father’s house. It hung in the center of one of the yellow-painted, wooden sticks that held up the tin roof of the house, almost as if the individual in the photograph was so mighty that removing his picture would make the house crumble.
The photo calls out to me, inviting me to unravel the many secrets behind it, permitting me to exhume the stories of those who lived, of those who lost, of those who loved.
“Tia y ese hombre, who is that man? Ese es el papá de Papá Pancho?” A disturbed look spread across my aunt’s face as I asked if my lineage traced back to this man. It made me realize that I should have either known the answer to this question, or she dreaded telling me who this man was.
“You do not know who this man is? Do they not teach you history of different countries in your classes in Nueva Yol?” She shook her head and crossed her arms. I don’t know what was worse-my ignorance or my aunt’s insolent reply.
This man must be important and definitely not a family member because, if he were in my family, I should have had the privilege to meet him, and if he were so important I should have learned of him in my beat-down public school system.
“Bueno, Tia, no lo conozco, I never learned Dominican Republic history pero who is that man? Por qué hay una foto de el subìa?”
“Ay Josuel, that is Trujillo.” You see everyone tells the same two Trujillo stories. It is the one of a Dominican Hitler, it is the one of a Dominican Nelson Mandela. It is the one of a vibrant, prospering country. It is the one of a broken identity and blood shed tyranny. “Era un ambiente completamente de miedo y uno vida de terror. There was no freedom. There was no security.” I am a grandson of the Trujillo regime. The sepia toned photo was taken some time around the 1940s. Trujillo was first in everything and then God. Trujillo was a blessing from God.
Revolucionario(a): a person who participates in a political, social or economic revolution of one’s nation. Last time I heard that word, it was my first time seeing a two-hundred Pesos Oro Dominicano bill. Currency in Dominican Republic always amused me because it was vibrant, unlike American currency. But the color was not the only thing that astounded me since I was used to the multi-colored bills already but the fact there was not just one woman, but three women on this bill. In America, there is nothing but white, rich, plantation and slaving owning men from the country’s genesis. But in Dominican currency, there are revolutionaries.
“Papá, who are those women? And why are they on the bill?”
“Papito, those women son revoluncionarias de la Patria, Las Hermanas Mirabal.”
In the tales I collected over the years, las Hermanas Mirabal, who were from Salcedo, Moca, about thirty minutes from San Victor, were honorable women, respected by all. They were unlike so many women of their generation. Yet, there are two versions of their story that have been told to me. Minerva Mirabal was invited to a grand fiesta by El Chivo himself. She refused to go because she hated Trujillo with a passion. Her father, a pharmacy owner, begged her to go because everyone knew to never deny an invitation sent by El Chivo. Denying his invite was like accepting an invite to the nearest prison or cemetery. Her father acknowledged that Minerva not going would bring havoc to the family. Minerva feared that Trujillo might touch her just like the stories that have been told prior. Trujillo would have these fiestas to choose his next few victims. Sometimes he’d even show up at the all-girl schools for “assemblies and ceremonies,” but in reality it was to offer these young women all the luxuries they’d want in exchange for their hour glass bodies. Many of them who were poor, would accept and what greater honor than to be the mistress of the Almighty Trujillo?
Minerva was more serious. Nevertheless, she arrived at the fiesta with her parents. Her mother had her wear the most glamorous salmon colored dress, three inch pumps, and her hair straightened out. Trujillo was received with the usual pomp that characterized his official appearances, the gaudy display that his regime so cherished. Trujillo approached Minerva and invited her to dance. Minerva refused but her father insisted. That fiesta would be remembered mostly for the big slap Minerva gave Trujillo in his face, in front of everyone, in the center of the dance floor, when he put his hand on her buttocks. She stormed out of the reception and her parents followed.
Minerva was about to graduate law school to become the first woman lawyer in the nation but on the day of her graduation Trujillo denied her degree.
Su titulo era invalido.
Shortly after, Trujillo had her family’s business shut down. Her father lost his pharmacy. Trujillo had the Mirabals under watch. Frustrated with everything that was occurring, not just with them but with the regime in general, the Mirabal sisters came together in secret with a few other rebels and began to plot the death of Trujillo. The Hermanas Mirabal and their gang of rebels were successful in their tactics and making it known that they would not live to praise this regime causing them to be incarcerated and as well as their husbands incarcerated and tortured in La Fortaleza, the end was near. The bloodbaths, gun war, fake bombings, threats, moving from region to region, hiding, and protests were all coming to an end. But the end was not of Trujillo- it was of them. Trujillo had incarcerated their husbands in Puerto Plata. Months had passed since they were allowed to visit them and finally Trujillo granted them permission. Nov. 25th 1960, a day to be remembered in infamy.
That morning they had gone to visit their husbands. They were granted a whole day of visitation which wasn’t the norm but what Trujillo says, goes. Upon returning home, to Salcedo, that evening, they traveled along a serpent rode, at the end of the rode they were detained. Four men dragged the sisters out of the jeep along with their driver. They were taken into another vehicle.
I don’t know what happens after this for this fragmented memory, like so many others, is not mine. It is only part of a story told directly to me. I hoard memories like this. Some mine, some received, some made up: the memories of my ancestors. I want to remember them as my own. I want each of these memories told to me to drag me into that time period and let me encounter it as if I were there.
But all I can remember is that the next day, it was reported that the Hermanas Mirabal and their driver were found dead on the bottom of a mountain due to a horrific car accident.
Typical Trujillo sponsored death: no one knows who, what, when, where, why or how, but it happened and no one is to question it.