- Vanessa Fonseca
I recently moved from Laramie, Wyoming to Mesa, Arizona. As I was thinking back about the Manito Trail over the past year, I'm filled with some really great memories about all the Manitos in Wyoming that have left impressions upon me and who have enriched my life in many ways. One of the things that always stood out to me was the ways in which the I-25 corridor provided a way for Manitos, particularly during the fall, to get their hands on some green chile - perhaps the most famous culinary marker of New Mexico. This conversation always arose during the interview process and many Manitos would talk about their green chile 'connection,' or, the person who would receive all the orders and make the trip back to New Mexico only to return with enough green chile to sustain a community until the next crop was ready the following year.
We know that the farmer's market in Laramie has green chile, but it's not from New Mexico. It often comes from Colorado - a state that has made recent claims to producing the best green chile - only to receive immediate rebuttal from places like Hatch, New Mexico, whose chile is famous around the United States.
Before moving to Mesa, Arizona, I was well aware of many New Mexican restaurants in this area from my time as a graduate student at Arizona State University. I, too, scoured the area for my annual supply of green chile, but was less than ecstatic when I settled for an overpriced restaurant supply of Hatch green chile that was given to me in a black bag at the hostess stand. You see, there is something quite special about experiencing green chile season - seeing the fresh green chiles in the burlap sacks as they are poured into the roaster is enough to put a giant smile on any New Mexican's face.
So, you can imagine my excitement as I am driving to work one day and see a sign that says, "Hatch Chile Festival" at a local farmers market in Mesa. What?! A two-day festival complete with the sights and smells of green chile AND a food truck that serves Indian tacos? Olvídate. The Manita in me is wondering (and I ask) if there is going to be enough chile for everyone (80 tons confirmed), how many New Mexicans will be there, and how long this has been happening. I am well-aware that New Mexico and Arizona share a different type of diasporic relationship due to their territorial history, so of course New Mexicans are everywhere in Arizona. As a million thoughts are going through my head, more than anything I am just really excited to spend a day in green chile heaven.
My fiance and I arrive at the festival and I'm looking around for New Mexico license plates and making my usual comments about whether or not the scene is faux New Mexican or legit. I even wear my Zia t-shirt, my Chicana power earrings, and a bandana (al estilo de TuPac) to really get into the moment. Though I didn't buy chile that day (they can't mix medium with hot on a day like this), I go back a couple days later and savor the experience of green chile being carried to the roaster and take the sights and smells of the moment. I don't even care that it's 104 degrees outside, because everything else is perfect. I also wanna throw in here that my sister recently moved to Boston, MA and rode her bike 25 miles just to get some green chile!
Now here comes the fun part. I like to peel the chile before I package and freeze it. My methods lead my oldest sister to say I'm ridiculous. She and my mom prefer to take the huevonada route and peel the chile much later -after it's packaged and frozen. I disagree. You should put everyone to work for HOURS (sometimes against their will), so that when you are ready to eat it, "'ay está, it's done" (as my mom would say). After enlisting the help of my fiance and his parents (for HOURS), we sat down to a dinner of frijoles, tortillas and green chile. Can you think of anything more glorious? Cause I can't. Unless its the green chile chicken enchiladas that followed, or the huevos con chile, or the late-night quesadillas with green chile. I could go on.
There are 33 bags of green chile in the freezer. I have no idea if that will be enough. It's been two weeks since we did this. My car still smells like green chile and I love it! This may seem pretty insignificant to many, but green chile makes Manitos happy. Because it's not just about green chile; it's about family and tradition, agriculture, and the practice of working together within families to provide sustenance. It's about seasons changing and thinking about everything the antepasados had to do to endure the winter. It's about Manito legacies. If we don't continue to practice our culinary traditions, we lose so much more than just the food.
My mom told me one year that we were going to buy tamales instead of making them. I almost had a heart attack.