Q: What challenges did you face in investigating or reporting the story?
The most important challenge was to be able to bring up the real impact of musicians not being able to sing. Music is the vehicle through which the Marshallese have passed on their history from one generation to the other. Recently, there was a land dispute in their Traditional Rights Court, wherein a song was presented as evidence for the ownership of an island, and it was accepted as legitimate. So, for cultural continuity, music is extremely important in that society and we wanted to convey that.
The nuclear legacy is a longstanding issue in the Marshall Islands and a lot has been said and written about it in the United States. A challenge for us was to find artists from the second and third generation of Marshallese, who were born decades after the testing, to prove that radiation sicknesses aren’t just prevalent among those alive during the 1950s.
Artists are sensitive people who see and understand things that other people in a society don’t. A lot of the Marshallese have also not had a good experience with American journalists, who they feel have in the past trivialized their suffering, so we had to be very sensitive to their pain and aspirations.
There are unanswered questions about the presence of radioiodine in the Marshall Islands and the intergenerational aspects of radiation sicknesses. The official position of the U.S. government on this issue has also changed over time. We looked for evidence that would persuade authorities to carry out a comprehensive cancer assessment in the country, and come to the aid of younger Marshallese who are still suffering.