Observations and ideas about race, ethnicity and mixing.

An Island Divided In The Time of the Butterflies

The relevance of this course in my everyday life has manifested again in the form of tying in with my English class. Lately, we have done several readings about identity and some history about the Caribbean, including watching the documentary Haiti and Dominican Republic: An Island Divided. In my English class, we recently read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez which is also set in the Dominican Republic. While the documentary discussed Trujillo, the book focused much more on the impact of Trujillo, specifically on the Mirabal sisters (three revolutionaries who were assassinated under Trujillo’s orders and one sister that survived). Watching this documentary was interesting because the novel focused heavily on gender roles under his reign and did not focus on race or even discuss the Haitian genocide. For example, it mentions the fact that Trujillo wears makeup, but it did not explain that he wore makeup in attempt to make his skin look lighter. The makeup was only brought because Alvarez was describing Minerva Mirabal slapping Trujillo’s face after he made unwanted sexual advances (which happened in real life). The novel is important because of the light it sheds on the plight women under Trujillo, but the exclusion of the persecution of an entire people is disturbing. Both reading the novel and watching the documentary helped paint a fuller picture of the atrocities committed by Trujillo.



Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.


  1. Bryana Barron

    The comparison in both of your classes discussing Rafael Trujillo was insightful. It gives layers to the deeper issue of why a man would dehumanize his own people and create a culture of anti-Africanism. When mentioning the make-up Trujillo used to lighten his skin, it is a sad thing to learn about because Trujillo probably was battling insecurities of his own rather than natural hatred of a people. All in all, the damage is done, and what Trujillo has left in the Caribbean Islands is still internalized today in regards the colorism issue.

  2. burkeozk

    Internalized racism is an interesting notion. It means that we are no longer capable to distinguish the self from the society. Is this good? Is this bad? In the case that society, universally as well as domestically, has not only dehumanized blackness but demonized blackness as well, it’s bad. It’s scary how much the external world can permeate and disempower the internal self.

  3. Natalie Suess

    I am also in the english class that read In the Time of the Butterflies and I appreciate the connection you make between the two classes. It was surprising to learn that Trujillo tried to make himself appear lighter skinned than he truly was with the aid of makeup. It is also interesting because men wearing makeup is uncommon in todays society and it is seen as a feminine habit, yet the powerful and feared Trujillo powdered his face.

    • harneyk

      I think you make an interesting point about the break of gender roles. In the case of Trujillo, I think it shows that his insecurities about his complexion were stronger than his insecurities about his masculinity. From this, perhaps the argument can be made that his racist beliefs superseded his hypermasculinity.

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