The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Women Who Change the World

December 2, 2011

Julia Alvarez's picture in the Lower Eastside Girls Club's mural, Women Who Change the World. Photo courtesy of the Lower Eastside Girls Club

Julia Alvarez?s historical fiction novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, tells the story of Dedé, Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa Mirabal, four real-life sisters in the Dominican Republic who took part in the underground movement against the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. With the exception of Dedé who survived to tell their story, the sisters were assassinated for their involvement in the revolution.

In the Time of the Butterflies was chosen by the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City as their Big Read book, and recently unveiled a new mural in celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Today we?re talking with Kate Sease, the Girls Club?s development associate about this event, the Mirabal sisters, and The Big Read.

NEA: Can you tell us a little more about this mural and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women?

KATE SEASE: In 1999, the UN General Assembly named November 25th the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The day is named in honor of the three Mirabal sisters that were killed on dictator Rafael Trujillo's orders on November 25th, 1960 in the Dominican Republic. We chose to celebrate this day on November 22nd with our Big Read launch and with the unveiling of our mural, Women Who Change the World, which depicts 19 women change-makers throughout history.

We decided to paint a mural because this fall, our teenage Girls Club members learned about historic and current women activists. Girls then teamed up with 17 female artists to paint the women that inspired them on the walls of First Street Garden. [Some of the women] included in the mural are Sonia Sotomayor, Julia Alvarez, Shirley Chisolm, Rosa Parks, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

Our kickoff on the 22nd was great.  We were able to celebrate the lives of the Mirabal sisters, women throughout history who have acted on their convictions, and the involvement of Washington Irving High School (WIHS) in our Big Read program. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez joined us for a tour of the mural and to speak about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. [New York City] Councilwoman Rosie Mendez also joined Girls Club members to continue the celebration.

As a part of the event, we handed out posters of the mural and we had butterfly pins for all of our attendees. Julia Alvarez has asked people to start a tradition of wearing butterflies on November 25th as a tribute to the Mirabal sisters, so we made pins out of butterfly drawings done by our 12-year-old members---they were a huge hit!

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez stands with her portrait and the young women of the Lower Eastside Girls Club's mural, Women Who Change the World. Photo courtesy of the Lower Eastside Girls Club

NEA: This is your second Big Read with us, correct?  What made you choose In the Time of the Butterflies as your book?

SEASE: This is the Lower Eastside Girls Club's second Big Read. The Girls Club was thrilled to see In the Time of the Butterflies on The Big Read list, as we are huge fans of Julia Alvarez. We are currently running a college and career prep program based on her book Once Upon a Quinceañera, and in our café (a job training program for teens and young mothers) we only sell "Tres Mariposas" brand coffee, grown by a cooperative in the Dominican Republic that was founded by Julia Alvarez and her husband. The profits support a school and literacy program for children of the workers. 

NEA: What has been your community's reaction to The Big Read? What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

SEASE: The response to The Big Read in our community has been incredibly positive. We shared In the Time of the Butterflies and The Big Read curriculum with two English classes at Washington Irving High School. I was surprised by how flexible both the school and teachers were about incorporating it into their English curriculum. They did an amazing job teaching In the Time of the Butterflies, and speaking with the students about how Julia Alvarez's book has impacted them was so inspiring.

NEA: What are some of the other events for this year's Big Read that you're especially looking forward to?

SEASE: The Lower Eastside Girls Club has a number of Big Read events coming up. We are especially looking forward to our playwriting class, where Girls Club members will write narratives inspired by In the Time of the Butterflies and share their work in local libraries.

NEA: Any last words?

SEASE: At our Big Read Kickoff, Congresswoman Velazquez gave a powerful and inspiring speech that reminded all of us to act in the spirit of the Mirabal sisters, and to never doubt our ability to speak our minds and change the world.

For more information on In the Time of the Butterflies and the Mirabal sisters, check out The Big Read website. For more information on the Lower Eastside Girls Club and their work, please visit http://girlsclub.org.

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