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Outrider believes that the global challenges we face together must be solved by working together.

Among the greatest threats to the future of humankind are nuclear weapons and global climate change. Outrider makes the bold claim that both threats can be overcome — and not just by policy makers but by people with the right tools and inspiration.

Nuclear Weapons

A Journey Home

by Daphne Peter, Marcina Langrine, Joyce Hirose, Neimony Netwan, Trina Marty, Benetick Kabua-Maddison / Edited by Lovely Umayam of the Bombshelltoe Policy x Arts Collective
May 25, 2021

A Journey Home is a community poem written by six Marshallese students — ranging from high school to undergraduate — living in Springdale, Arkansas. It is a reflection on the many meanings of home: as Arkansas, as the Marshall Islands, and as Earth that needs to be protected and cultivated for the next generation.

Springdale, Arkansas is home to the largest population of Marshallese in the United States. Local organizations estimate more than 12,000 Marshallese live in Springdale, with the population expected to increase as new families immigrate and existing ones expand. While Springdale is a majority white and Latino town, many locals refer to the rising number of children entering the Springdale school district as an indicator of a growing Marshallese community. As of June 2020, about 3,000 students are Marshallese. (According to school district data, about 13% of students identify as Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.) Many of the youth have only been to the Marshall Islands once when they were very young, while others have not visited at all. And some of them are beginning to learn about the Marshall Islands’s terrible nuclear legacy. 

Their native homelandcomprising 1,200 islets in the Pacific Oceanwas the site the United States government used to test 67 nuclear bombs from 1946 to 1958. Because of nuclear testing, many native Marshallese were forcibly removed from some of the islands, and suffered illnesses from being exposed to radioactive fallout. The U.S. government provided financial compensation for these damages, but the Marshallese government and many non-governmental institutions argue that the compensation mechanism was unsustainable and insufficient. While Marshallese youth in Springdale (as well as other youth living in other popular migration destinations in the United States, including Hawai’i and the Pacific Northwest) did not grow up under the shadow of the Cold War or witnessed a nuclear test in their lifetime, they are intimately bound to this history of exploitation that continues to affect the health and environment of their communities today.

A Journey Home

My feet move
through fresh mud
after the rain,
spring leaves crunch
under my shoes,
careful not to step
on the many-legged
that call this place

Clouds appear when I
breathe out.
This Earth is my home too.
I find new paths every day,
soles full of memories
that I have made:

Home is in the stillness
of trees that flank
the rugged road
winding into miles and miles
of breathtaking wild.

Home is in the loud hooting
during football games—
“Woooooooo pig sooie!”—
and the crisp hiss
of a soda can
pried open
on a summer day.

Home is in the riot of my bedroom,
where purple string lights dangle
like dancing punk fairies,
as I sing along loops
of my favorite songs.

I find home when I travel.
Like that one time in Seattle,
a city that smells of brine
brewed from the sea.
Skinned fish and home-made cheese
sit pretty under the patter of rain
and the squabble of seagulls
bathing in the bay.

But there is one home I long for:
The Marshall atolls,
daughters of the ocean,
forged by primordial coral.
They call my name.

My feet move
through sand
damp from the waves.
They pull me.
Palms seek the cool touch
of sea foam
like delicate lace.
These islands are
my inheritance;
Earthly gems
under opulent stars.

But I cannot walk further.

The water is a terrifying mood,
eating away the island lagoons.
Sea walls battered,
now crumbling.
Storms split the leaning palms,
the same ones swallowed
by nuclear plumes
many years ago.

Men gave atom bombs
a place in world history.
But what about this home?
Smudged out of the story,
I fear people only saw the dirty red cloud,
and not the bruised Earth below.

In the future, will these island daughters
sink to the ocean floor?
I fear people only see a drowned land
instead of an Earth worth saving.

These questions stump me,
but still I stitch a map
to connect what matters most:
My family, my culture,
my Marshall Island home.

A map of
the Marshalls
not as a place, but a people
to guide a future generation
whose feet will meet
the islands with love,
and without fear.

But I long to find a path
towards home—
the emerald countryside
or the blue Pacific tides—
that will stay safe,
where my children
can tumble
into a beautiful
and feel
Earth as stable
under their newly-formed soles,
while their little palms,
fingers splayed,
reach for the sky—
a limitless canvas—
where time is constant and still.

aerial view of the Marshall Islands and Runit dome.

Aerial view of Runit Dome.

Getty Images

This poem is produced under the Reverse the Trend project, an educational and advocacy network that helps young people understand the complex political and environmental relationship between nuclear weapons and climate change, and encourages movement-building through art. Special thanks to the Marshallese Educational Initiative, Reverse the Trend, and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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