Tina Cordova and the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium  November 21, 2023

On November 3 in Washington, DC, Physicians for Social Responsibility bestowed a Health Hero Award upon Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.  In her acceptance speech, Cordova spoke about what Downwinders have experienced and the current debate in Congress over extending and expanding coverage in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act [RECA] 

Here is a transcript of Tina’s remarks upon accepting the PSR Health Hero Award:  

Well I am rarely speechless but tonight I just want to say thank you so very much for this distinction.  I don’t do this work alone.  As has been mentioned already by the other awardees, there’s always somebody that does this work with us, and I have had amazing people along the way  that have contributed to the work that I have been doing for the last 18 years. 

It’s usually at the end, but I am going to start out by saying this tonight: I do this work because people in my community have been dying for 78 years. We bury someone and someone else is diagnosed. And that’s just the hard truth, that’s the legacy of the nuclear testing that took place in the United States. And I will do this work until the day we find success or until the day they put me in the ground. 

It is so wonderful to be able to collaborate with organizations like PSR. Your voices are trusted voices.  They add strength to the work that we do, and so I am grateful for the relationship that we have with PSR and other organizations that have joined with us.

There is somebody that I want to mention that is special to me  who is a member of PSR — and that’s Doctor Maureen Merritt.  Some of you may know Maureen. Maureen lived in New Mexico — was  very instrumental in getting coverage for the nuclear workers. And she was on our steering committee years ago and was a mentor to me and I learned a great deal from her. So I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the contribution she made to our organization.

I also want to say that our organization has a structure to it — we have a steering committee and I wish that all those people were here with me tonight. Again, I can’t do this work alone.

I also want to acknowledge that I had some wonderful parents that taught me a long time ago to never take no for an answer, to always stand up when I saw that something wasn’t right.

And so, to my dear father who passed away from cancer.  Was a four year old child living in a downwind community, drinking mass quantities of cow’s milk. Later on in life developed tongue cancer. Didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t use chewing tobacco, had no viruses. And then, eight years later got another primary tumor at the front of his tongue. Again, non-smoker, non-drinker, no chewing tobacco, no viruses.

When I asked the doctors in New Mexico, “how can this happen?” They said “it doesn’t — but we see it all the time here.”

My dear Dad taught me to never take a back seat, and to always stand up. And so that’s why I am here tonight. Because I learned from him how to stand up.

I want you all to know that this legacy is not going away for us. I’m the fourth generation in my family to have cancer since 1945, when they tested the bomb. I now have a 23 year old niece who’s the fifth generation. We don’t ask ourselves if we’re going to get cancer, we ask when it’s going to be our turn.

There is a latency period associated with exposure to radiation and when you manifest disease — you all are physicians, you understand this. But if you have the genetics for this, there’s no latency period and now we are seeing it manifest in younger children all the time.

In my little community 45 miles from the Trinity test site, there are two families close to me who have babies. One a two-year old child that just had to have an eye removed because of eye cancer. And I also have a very close friend from the Mescalero Apache Reservation, and he’s helping support his son to take his grandson to MD Anderson Cancer Center on a regular basis. He is nine months old and he has been on chemo since he was two years old.

So tonight, as you award this to me, you help support our efforts. You stand with us, you communicate that this isn’t OK, that you can’t look away from these sorts of things. Our government made mistakes and they have to atone for that. The time has come for them to do that.

We are this close right now to getting the bill passed in Congress. 

July 27th of this year, the U.S. Senate passed our bill, the RECA Amendment bill, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 61 to 37.  That never happens, folks. But we had Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican from Missouri, joined with Sen. Ben Ray Lujan from New Mexico, Democrat and Republican, to address this in a nonpartisan way, because this is not a partisan issue.

Exposure to radiation is not discerning, it affects the young, the old, the male, the female, the black and the white, the Republican and the Democrat alike. 

And it is time our government complete this winning process and the House of Representatives does the exact same thing — that they reconcile the NDAA to include the RECA amendments. It’s time that we do that. 

They will tell us that it’s going to cost too much. We have spent 12 trillion dollars on our nuclear program since its inception. The program so far in 33 years has paid out $2.5 billion. Right now they say it’s going to cost $150 billion to add the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Guam and all of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of twelve trillion. 

Let me tell you some statistics for the people of New Mexico. We’re the state that is most reliant on Medicaid for our health care coverage. Forty-seven percent of all the people in New Mexico access health care using Medicaid. I know that a significant number of those people are downwinders and uranium workers — and why do I know? Because we’ve been collecting health surveys for sixteen years and we ask the question. And inevitably, when people get too sick to work there’s only one option for them and that’s Medicaid.

And we just recently found out, New Mexico carries some of the highest medical debt in the whole country. Two million people carrying $881 million — almost a billion dollars — in medical debt.

We have been affected physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially in a way that we will never be able to fully understand.

Justice for us means that our government atones for the mistakes that they made.  We should certainly–after 78 years–be able to look at this through a different lens than we have looked at it for all these many years.

So what can everybody do to help us?  Well, you can join with us.  You can go to our website www.trinitydownwinders.com. There’s messaging there, there are links so you can reach out to your Members of Congress.  We have to make sure that they understand how important this is to us, as people from all across the country.

The other thing is: everyone has probably seen the Oppenheimer movie, right? It looks as though it took place in a vacuum. They don’t portray a single person from New Mexico. 

When they established the Manhattan Project, they invaded our lands and our lives, they ruined our environment and they walked away. 

When Christopher Nolan came to New Mexico to film, he invaded our lands and our lives, he took our tax incentives, and he didn’t reflect on the lives or the suffering of the people of New Mexico — and shame on them.

So what I ask tonight is that you all see us.  I know you do because you awarded this to me. But I ask you all, please don’t look away from us.  After 78 years, join with us in this fight. It’s the right thing to do.  And I regularly say: once you know this history, and you understand this history, if you remain complacent, then you are complicit in the injustices that we have suffered from.

I appreciate this honor and I’m so glad to be here in person and I will forever be grateful for this recognition.  Thank you.

Call Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to support justice for nuclear impacted communities

TINA CORDOVA is a seventh generation native New Mexican born and raised in the small town of Tularosa in south central New Mexico. In 2005 Tina co-founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) with the late Fred Tyler.

The mission of the TBDC is to bring attention to the negative health effects suffered by the unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated, innocent victims of the first nuclear blast on earth that took place at the Trinity site in South Central New Mexico. Ultimately, the goal is the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to bring much needed health care coverage and partial restitution to the People of New Mexico who have sacrificed and suffered with the negative health effects of overexposure to radiation since 1945. Tina is a cancer survivor having been diagnosed with Thyroid cancer when she was 39 years old. She is the fourth generation in her family to have cancer since 1945 and there are a total of five generations that have been affected including a niece that has recently been diagnosed at the age of 23.

In her role as an advocate on behalf of the TBDC she has testified before the U.S. Senate judiciary Committee, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Tina has also been a guest lecturer/speaker at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands University, Colorado College, University of California and at events all over the State of New Mexico communicating the history of the New Mexico Downwinders. Throughout the Pandemic, Tina was invited to participate in webinars all over the world as people reflected on the 75th Anniversary of the Trinity Test. In 2023 the Con Alma Foundation acknowledged her 18 years of advocacy work by awarding her the Hero of Health Award.

More Campaign Update

Next-Generation Climate and Health Ambassadors Prepare to Graduate

As the Spring 2024 cohort of our Next-Generation Climate and Health Ambassador program concludes, we would like to highlight some impactful projects our ambassadors have...
More about Next-Generation Climate and Health Ambassadors Prepare to Graduate

RECA advocates converge on Capitol Hill

In the struggle to expand and extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act within this session of Congress, we have now reached the 11th hour. If Congress...
More about RECA advocates converge on Capitol Hill

#DemandAccess Activists Team up with Local Town Halls in Washington State to call for Healthcare, not Warfare! 

#DemandAcccess and PSR National have teamed up with Washington PSR and others to form the Healthcare Not Warfare Coalition. This coalition has been organizing local...
More about #DemandAccess Activists Team up with Local Town Halls in Washington State to call for Healthcare, not Warfare!