In the 1980s, New Mexican peace activists, aware of their state's connections to the atomic bomb, played a small part in ensuring that the Cold War never became hot.
The Santa Fe Pairing Project Records, now held by UNM’s Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections, tell the story of "citizen diplomats" and their efforts to improve U.S.-Soviet relations.
In 1983, Santa Fe joined more than one thousand American cities that received a sister city of similar size in the USSR. Adopting the slogan "let the first strike be a knock on the door," the project aimed to prevent nuclear holocaust by building trust through personal contact.
The Pairing Project was the brainchild of Portland State University marketing professor Earl Molander. Amy Bunting was its Santa Fe coordinator. Much of her correspondence is preserved in the collection, along with articles, clippings, flyers, newsletters, and educational materials related to the peace movement. Documentation of talks, symposia, film screenings, and other community events is also available.
Santa Fe’s sister city was Petrovsk-Zabaykalsky. Children from Santa Fe High and St. Catherine’s Indian School sent dozens of letters to this remote stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway near the Russian border with Mongolia. One student, struggling to pronounce the name "Petrovsk-Zabaykalsky," teased his pen pal about it, but then admitted that Santa Fe’s full name ("La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis") was even longer.
Adults as well as children corresponded with pen pals behind the Iron Curtain. Their letters are perhaps of greatest interest today for their thoughts on American society in the 1980s, from national politics to local concerns like rising rents, poverty, and racial tensions.
Soviet officials were banned from visiting thirteen New Mexico counties because of security concerns, but tourists could travel freely. In 1984, a Russian church delegation visited Santa Fe, and in 1989, the American-Soviet Friendship Society of New Mexico hosted a group of visitors from Turkmenistan. Americans also visited the USSR. The Pairing Project Records contain brochures for multi-week tours to places as far afield as St. Petersburg and Siberia.
Preventing war was not the only thing that motivated peace activists. The arms race, as one brochure in the Pairing Project Records points out, was having a negative effect within the United States by siphoning off money that could have been used to address social needs among Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, and other minorities. Although he was referring to the Cold War, the words of Vice Admiral John Marshall Lee were (and remain) equally relevant to American society: "We and the Soviets are in the same lifeboat. We will live together or die together."
Michael Taylor, Public Services Librarian