I was born in El Salvador, but a series of events that affected my family throughout multiple generations led me to the United States: the world’s second-largest nuclear superpower.
In the United States, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
In the United States, we celebrate immigrants (at least some of the time).
In the United States, we also celebrate nuclear weapons.
This year, Los Angeles served as the host city to the Ninth Summit of the Americas. A summit that exists to discuss the region’s most pressing problems, and that the US hosted because, according to President Joe Biden, Latin America is the United States’ “front yard.”
But if this country I call home wants everything south of its border to be considered its “front yard,” it needs to accept that those countries can teach the United States a thing or two, including about nuclear policy and nonproliferation.
Latin America and the Caribbean deeply rebuke nuclear weapons. The Treaty of Tlatelolco was signed in Mexico in 1967 and created the world’s first Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) in Latin America. The treaty is guarded and cared for at the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL). It is essential to point out that OPANAL is the only regional organization in the world entirely dedicated to achieving nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. It is one of the key reasons why Latin America has no nuclear weapons and other NWFZs exist. The CTBT also finally achieved universalization in Latin America and the Caribbean thanks to the ratification of Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean, in June 2022. With this achievement, Latin America and the Caribbean are now committed to a nuclear weapons-free world through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the NPT, and the CTBT.
While calling Latin America its “front yard” may be a change in rhetoric, the United States still needs to address its troubled relationships, both with nuclear weapons and with the Latin American and Caribbean diasporas it too often leaves behind.
THE US’ TROUBLED RELATIONSHIPS
The 2022 Summit included a sizzle reel of various landmarks in Los Angeles, to showcase the United States’ connection to Latin America. Unfortunately, the video omitted heavily Latinx parts of the city. Places like South Central Los Angeles, where my classmates and friends grew up, and the community that welcomed my family to the United States. It was as if these areas did not exist.
Ironically, Biden and his Nuclear Football were just two blocks away from the world’s first Nuclear Weapons Free High School. It is also ironic that, while traveling with such a weapon by his side, Biden was set to meet with countries that vehemently oppose nuclear weapons, whether it be through their membership to the NPT, or the nuclear power-shunned Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
So, to me, “Hispanic Heritage Month” isn’t just an excuse to wear sombreros and equate us to the food we eat. (And no, we’re not all Mexicans nor do we all eat tacos; I am a Salvadoran and much prefer my mother’s pupusas.) Despite its status as a NWFZ, Latin America is not safe from the global effects of a nuclear exchange between superpowers. My people, the family and friends I have in El Salvador, the Caribbean and Latin America, will suffer for the decisions of the few. As will we all.
As a Salvadoran, this Hispanic Heritage Month I ask you to remember that the threat of the nuclear holocaust never went away (as a certain article I recently read would lead you to believe). We simply downplayed it to focus on problems that the nuclear powers didn’t perceive as “wicked.”
CELEBRATING THE RIGHT WAY
Latin America is commonly stereotyped for its many societal challenges, several of which are a result of meddling nuclear superpowers. Yet, the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the CTBT are just two ways we, as Latin Americans, have demonstrated our diplomatic power.
I celebrate the country that brought me to this world and the countries that provided me with best friends, family and role models. Because the country that adopted and propelled me to this profession never told me a thing about Latin American-descendant nuclear experts.
I celebrate the Latin American diplomats and professors who inspire me, the ones who speak and joke in the same language I speak at home. Because right now, as it stands, I don’t see many who look or speak like me in the United States, which makes me appreciate International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi of Argentina, Ambassador Maritza Chan of Costa Rica, Ambassador Julia Villatoro of El Salvador, and the various experts who call OPANAL their home, even more.
I celebrate the anti-nuclear advocacy and diplomacy that began decades before me because it now runs through my veins. I am proud to live in a country that champions civic action that resulted in women’s rights, Black rights, LGBTQI rights, and others.
For the past six years, I have represented the United States, and in every conference, I have made sure to tell people: “My name is Cristopher Cruz Colorado, and I was born in El Salvador, but I am also a US national.” (Representation of Salvadorans in nuclear policy is a story for another day.)
NO REST FOR THE DREAMERS
Latin America and the Caribbean is united against nuclear weapons in a tangible, modern example of collective, human security. A model for the United States of America to follow. But many steps remain to bridge the gap between what the US says it represents and its real-world actions. I will not rest until I see the United States take those steps.
I will not rest until the United States abides by the NPT’s Article VI commitments.
I will not rest until the United States finally ratifies the CTBT.
But most importantly, I will not rest until the United States fully acknowledges the Latin American and Caribbean diaspora; a diaspora that makes up a part of the backbone of this country, a diaspora that aspires to work in nuclear diplomacy, a diaspora that does not deserve to be siloed into stereotyped careers or jobs.
Because I cannot help but wonder, when will my adoptive country, the one that celebrates Latin American heritage, acknowledge my people? After all, one of them might be the next Undersecretary for Arms Control, Secretary of State, or even Director General at an important United Nations nuclear watchdog group.
I will not rest until the United States, a country that loves to nickname itself “America” despite sharing the name with two continents and dozens of countries, has a true Latin American overseeing its nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.
And if I learned anything from Salvadoran-American Astronaut Frank Rubio, it is that we need to put in the work to make our dreams come true.
Cristopher Cruz is an immigrant, geek, and writer. He functions as a Communications Coordinator for the CTBTO Youth Group and Co-Founder of Nuclear Free Schools. Cristopher runs his own bilingual blog called The Atomic Scholar, where he writes about his adventures in the nuclear field as a Salvadoran American. When not canceling nukes, he can be found roaming museums and parks or watching Godzilla movies.