By Greg Byrd, El Defensor Chieftain.
Lt. Governor Howie Morales is a long-time supporter of the Downwinders organization as he grew up in southern New Mexico. He gave an opening ceremony speech to families and supporters of Downwinders.
“This event and the work done here is extremely important to the citizens which is why I had and wanted to come,” he said. “Groups like this seeking justice and bottom line respect is what government is all about and the funds raised today will give a strong voice from the people of New Mexico.”
San Antonio, NM residents and Downwinders members Richard and Louisa Lopez kicked off the fundraiser with the pledge of allegiance.
Music, dance and politics came together for the second annual Downwinders fundraiser at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. The money raised by volunteers of the Downwinders group from ticket sales, concessions, and a silent auction that included memorabilia, locally made jewelry and artwork, gift baskets and floral arrangements all went towards helping founding members of the organization travel to Washington D.C.
Their goal, equal pay and inclusion for New Mexico as part of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently only three states, Nevada, Utah and Arizona receive funds from the senate bill.
Tina Cordova is a co-founder of the New Mexico Downwinders branch that has been around for 14 years. The group put on a similar fundraiser last year which allowed her and ten other members to visit the senate.
“We’ve been working for about eight months to put together this fundraiser,” she said. “These are all volunteers. Our goal is to make the voices of communities like Socorro and Tularosa and San Antonio and all over the state heard. All we ask for is the same funding that other states have been allotted for over 29 years due to the effects of radiation poisoning. We want not one dime more or one dime less.”
New Mexico has been ranked in the top five in cancer rate per capita in the country for over 70 years and the Downwinders credit that to the Trinity Site test bombing that took place on July 16, 1945 in White Sands where the first nuclear bomb was tested. The RECA has given out an estimated 2.3 billion to “downwinder” effected states for cancer related health problems with none of those funds allotted to New Mexico citizens
A traditional hoop performance by JaiPo Harvier from the Santa Clara reservation began the festivities. That was followed by local group Franc Chewiwie and the Latin Jazz All Stars which opened its set with a rendition of the Santana classic “Oye Como Va” as the crowd put on their dancing shoes. Paul Pino, a Downwinders member, and his band the Tone Daddies were up next. Pino, a Carrizozo native and long time supporter of the organization, expressed his frustration with the lack of funds locally before going on stage.
“I’m channeling my anger and concern for my family and friends health today,” he said. “Having been born years later I thought I was in the clear. But the effects are still happening to my family. My daughter recently just got diagnosed with thyroid disease. It’s something that I could get really pissed off about. But ultimately it is one of those things where our government needs help to be pushed a little and just do the right thing.”