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Hispano and Native American Experiences of the Manhattan Project

Hispano and Native American Experiences of the Manhattan Project

Left to right: David Schiferl, Dr. Patricia Trujillo, and Willie Atencio.

On October 13, 2017, Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) President Cindy Kelly and Program Manager Nate Weisenberg spoke at the Historias de Nuevo México (Histories of New Mexico) conference “Querencia Interrupted: Hispano and Native American Experiences of the Manhattan Project.” Organized by the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area and Northern New Mexico College, the conference convened scholars, activists, and community members for three days of conversations on the Manhattan Project and its legacies. AHF and numerous other organizations, including Los Alamos National Bank and the National Park Service, sponsored the event.

As part of an opening encuentro (meeting), Kelly and Weisenberg talked about some new firsthand accounts from northern New Mexico residents included on the “Voices of the Manhattan Project” oral history website. Specifically, AHF published a collection of interviews with Manhattan Project participants taken by Willie Atencio and David Schiferl (left, with Dr. Patricia Trujillo) in 2009. Earlier this year, AHF also interviewed Frances QuintanaLydia Martínez, and Floy Agnes Lee about their work on the Manhattan Project. For more information on these projects, click here.

The interviews collected by Atencio and Schiferl and AHF will deepen public understanding of northern New Mexicans’ involvement in the Manhattan Project. The interviewees held a variety of jobs at Los Alamos, including as construction workers, janitors, housekeepers, technicians, clerks, mess hall staff, mail couriers, and maids. The interviews expressed different perspectives on how the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos National Laboratory have affected the area. Some interviewees welcomed what they viewed as steady jobs and good pay at the laboratory. Others were concerned over environmental contamination, the health effects of working at Los Alamos, and the project’s disruptions to traditional ways of life.

Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area Executive Director Thomas A. Romero and Dr. Patricia Trujillo, Associate Professor of English and Chicana/o Studies and Director of Equity and Diversity at Northern New Mexico College, spoke during the same encuentro as AHF. They discussed how projects that share stories of the Manhattan Project must respect local beliefs and cultural contexts. As Romero emphasized, the motto of the Heritage Area is con respeto y permiso: with respect and permission. Charles Strickfaden, site manager of the Los Alamos unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (MPNHP), gave an update on the MPNHP and reiterated that the park’s interpretation will include multiple perspectives on the Manhattan Project and its impacts.

Many thanks to Dr. Trujillo, Thomas Romero, Willie Atencio, and the other members of the Historias committee for organizing an engaging and thought-provoking event. The sessions highlighted important community projects to document northern New Mexico’s history. AHF looks forward to working with partners in northern New Mexico and around the country to share the great diversity of perspectives on the Manhattan Project and its impacts today.