The blockbuster movie leaves out the real story’s main characters: New Mexicans

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico

Bernice Gutierrez was eight days old when a light 10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun cracked open the predawn sky. No one in south-central New Mexico knew where it came from, or that the tiniest units of matter could be split to unleash such energy. Nor could they know that when the cloud that followed bloomed some 50,000 feet into the sky, it was surrounded for the briefest of seconds by a blue halo, the “glow of ionized air,” as the Manhattan Project physicist Otto Frisch described it.

first nuclear nuke explosion at trinity

The impacts of that unholy halo were all too apparent in the years after, when her great-grandfather died of stomach cancer. One person after another would receive their own wrenching cancer diagnoses — 41 people in her immediate family, spanning five generations. Every one of them had lived in the Tularosa Basin and within 50 miles of the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb, nicknamed “Gadget,” was detonated on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Gutierrez was one of a group of downwinders, including Mary Martinez White and Tina Cordova, cofounder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, who watched the movie “Oppenheimer” together when it opened. In one scene after another, New Mexico’s landscapes unfurled — all painfully beautiful and all, it appeared, empty and unpeopled.

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