Myrriah Gómez, an associate professor in the UNM Honors College, first monograph, Nuclear Nuevo México, was recently awarded a Southwest Book Award by the Border Regional Library Association. The book examines how Nuevomexicanos have been affected by nuclear colonialism in New Mexico.

In the 1940s, military and scientific personnel chose the Pajarito Plateau to site Project Y (Site Y) of the secret Manhattan Project, where scientists developed the atomic bomb. As a result, Nuevomexicano farmers were displaced from their ranch and farmlands for Site Y of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.

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Myrriah Gómez and her monograph, Nuclear Nuevo México.

Gómez argues that nuclear colonialism is the third major period of settler colonialism and started in the early 1940s. In her book, she discusses a nearly 80-year history of how the government has imposed nuclear colonialism on Nuevomexicano communities across the state.

“Los Alamos was selected for the Manhattan Project even though it did not meet the requirements that had been created for this particular site. The only requirement that it actually met was having a reasonable availability of labor,” Gómez explained, “The labor force, and by this, I mean the blue-collar workforce, was comprised of Spanish and Tewa-speaking peoples from the nearby Pojoaque Valley and Española Valley. Over three dozen Nuevomexicano families were majorly affected when they lost their farms and ranches on the Pajarito Plateau, as were Indigenous communities that lost sacred ancestral homelands.”

The University of Arizona Press is quoted reviewing Gómez’s work in high regard, stating, “Contrary to previous works that suppress Nuevomexicana/o presence throughout U.S. nuclear history, Nuclear Nuevo México focuses on recovering the voices and stories that have been lost or ignored in the telling of this history.”

The recent film Oppenheimer omits the stories of not only northern New Mexicans (both Nuevomexicanos and Tewa peoples) but also southern New Mexicans, Gómez informed. Particularly Nuevomexicanos living in the small villages surrounding the Trinity site who were critically affected by nuclear colonialism in the 1940s, she noted.

“It disregards how New Mexicans were the first downwinders of atmospheric nuclear testing, and their lives and livelihoods were negatively impacted by their exposure to ionizing radiation. Radiogenic cancers and other illnesses have affected these communities since the Trinity test,” Gómez illuminated. “In my book, I discuss how this instance of environmental racism played out in the 1940s and how it persists today with the fight to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a piece of federal legislation that, to date, does not compensate the Trinity downwinders.”

Myrriah Gómez is from the Pojoaque Valley in northern New Mexico. She earned her Doctorate in English with an emphasis in Latina/o Literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is a 2011 Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. She was awarded the Faculty of Color Award for Teaching in 2015 by the UNM Project for New Mexico Graduates of Color.

“I hope that readers of this book will acknowledge the cumulative impact of nuclear colonialism on New Mexico and see how Nuevomexicano communities have been affected,” Gómez said,

“With the increased production of nuclear pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the pressure to expand the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, applications for new uranium mines, and the state/federal battle over building an interim storage facility for high-level nuclear waste all happening today, we have to pressure the federal government for clean-up and compensation for the eighty years of harm it has imposed on ethnic minorities across New Mexico.”

Access Nuclear Nuevo México here.