MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Feature Excerpt

Spring 1999

Cross-Cultural Organizing
How it stopped a nuclear waste dump


"...Our victory has become a beacon of hope for many communities. People organized in peaceful, non-violent struggle are a powerful weapon. In the case of Sierra Blanca, we became even more powerful due to joining hands with our Mexican neighbors."--Richard Boren

"Anyone with common sense would be against the dump. It's nearby to two-and-a-half million people, and so close to the border. It's a human rights and water issue affecting low-income, Hispanic, and Mexican-American people. We've always been dumped on. That's why I'm against it."--Carlos, UTEP graduate


Eight years ago, the Texas Legislature decided that a nuclear waste dump would be built near Sierra Blanca to receive radioactive waste from states as far away as Vermont and Maine. At the same time, a growing activist movement began a campaign against the site, which was located on earthquake-prone ground and could eventually leak radioactive elements into underground aquifers and the nearby Rio Grande, merely 16 miles away.

Opposition to the proposed dump cited social concerns as well as environmental hazards. Sierra Blanca's residents are primarily Spanish-speaking American citizens of Mexican descent, 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Opponents believed the site was chosen because of the community's lack of political influence, racial makeup and economic status -- a target of environmental racism.

In the summer of 1998, the cross-cultural activist movement -- pitted against a well-funded lobbying effort by the utilities industry and political supporters in Texas -- culminated in a four-day, 77-mile march through the West Texas desert in the August heat. Soon after, Texas Governor George Bush announced the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission's decision to deny the Sierra Blanca waste site permit.

In the Spring 1999 issue of THE WORKBOOK, activist/writer Lotti Abraham recounts the march, a prime example of cross-cultural organizing and cooperation. The proposed waste dump threatened both West Texas and Mexico residents, so they banded together to fight the site. Against the almost overwhelming political clout and financial resources of the State of Texas, a few hundred devoted activists from both sides of the border prevailed. The article includes further discussions of the importance of activism and Mexican-American collaboration in both the fight against the Sierra Blanca site and future proposed sites.

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The nuclear waste dump is permitted to operate until 2024, but the federal government want to expand the amount and types of waste allowed with NO end date.
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