Anastasia Shakhidzhanova

By Anastasia Shakhidzhanova 

On Feb. 9, 2024 our Government, Development, and Outreach Coordinator, Anastasia Shakhidzhanova, and board member Father Larry Gosselin attended the screening of “First They Bombed New Mexico” at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film was followed by a panel and Q&A session led by the central figure of the documentary Tina Cordova and director Lois Lipman. 

 “First They Bombed New Mexico” focuses on the catastrophic aftermath of Trinity, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in history, conducted in New Mexico in 1945, just a month before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Despite hundreds of thousands of people living in New Mexico at the time, and thousands in less than a 20-mile radius from the test site, the individuals, communities, and lands were not considered in decision-making about the test. The exposure to radiation has led to an epidemic of cancers throughout the region that continues to plague communities to this day.

Tina Cordova is a lifelong activist and a native New Mexican; the film follows her experience fighting for financial compensation and recognition from the federal government for the horrific damage the Trinity test and the broader nuclear industry has forced upon innocent citizens living in New Mexico. Through door-knocking, public demonstrations, and government lobbying in Washington, Cordova organizes her community to stand up for the help they deserve. Firsthand testimonies from cancer victims and survivors describe the utter lack of accurate information provided by the federal government regarding the radiation exposure brought about by the explosion. Scenes of Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project provide a realistic counterpart and parallel to the blockbuster film released in 2023, which omitted any mention of the impact on the people of New Mexico.

The film portrays both the strength and the desperation of downwind communities and effectively pulls forth evidence to prove how careless the federal government has been with the health of New Mexicans: a prime example of environmental racism.

While it is sobering to witness the past histories and present realities depicted on-screen, Cordova and Lipman also take extensive care to show the positive future possibilities for this region of the United States and its inhabitants. The film ends with a firm and direct call to action: contact your members of Congress and urge them to support the RECA amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would add the New Mexican downwinders to the list of eligible communities to apply for compensatory funding for health damages. 

The deadline is June 2024 and you can learn more about how to take action here: and here: