What smell comes to mind when you think of New Mexico?
Is it the fresh rain rolling off Sandia Mountains? Is it alfalfa cut for harvest outside Roswell? Perhaps it’s the mercaptan added to the otherwise odorless smell from natural gas production in the Four Corners, or the waft of cows on the eastside of New Mexico.
Those last two might be more of a stank.
The flavor in the Land of Enchantment starts at green — even red chile is green to begin with — so it makes sense that lawmakers are weighing whether to make green chile the state’s official aroma. Specifically, it’s that smell of roasting chile that draws people every fall to parking lots across New Mexico.
That sweet, spicy aroma that brings watering mouths and nostalgia for home.
Senate Bill 188 passed its first sniff test on Tuesday, wafting with unanimous approval through the Senate Indian, Rural, and Cultural Affairs Committee in Santa Fe.
Sen. William Soules (D-Las Cruces) garnered multi-generational support for the bill during public comment.
First, a classroom of fifth graders from Monte Vista Elementary School in Las Cruces spoke over Zoom, petitioning lawmakers to pass their bill during this 60-day session.
The class said they had meetings with Soules before the session to talk about laws that represent cultural heritage in the state, such as the official bird (roadrunner), state cookie (biscochito), or state question (red or green?).
As the students understood how something like that becomes law, they asked why there is not an official smell. At the same time, the class researched the agricultural impact chile has in their community, and their curiosity led them to lobby Soules to sponsor the green chile aroma bill.
“It’s going to be statewide and could increase tourism,” a student in the class testified before the committee. “It’ll help local farmers and farming green chilies. This will make lifestyle (in New Mexico) a lot better.”
Las Cruces Mayor Pro-Tem Kasandra Gandara said there was some criticism that the aroma bill was “a waste of time” for lawmakers. She responded that fifth graders can learn civic policy in class, but being able to be a part of a real-world scenario — and potentially change state law — is a lasting experience.
“This is so exciting to have the fifth grade elementary students take part in their state and participate in what it’s like to form a bill, to stand up on behalf of a bill, and this is really what this is about,” she said. “And we need to be able to do more of this.”
A representative from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture also spoke in favor of the measure, evoking “the longings when you’re away from home and the comfort that green chile provides, as an aroma and a taste.”
The Financial Impact Report on the bill does affirm the students’ reasoning that this could help tourism in the state and help to give New Mexico staunch advancement in the Chile Verde Wars against Colorado.
“New Mexico has consistently lower visitation rates than neighboring Colorado, which reported 84.2 million visitors in 2021 compared to approximately 40 million visitors to New Mexico in the same year,” legislative analysts wrote. “The new state aroma could help draw visitors away from Colorado, which, for some reason, thinks it has green chile comparable to that of New Mexico.”
With that burn from Roundhouse researchers, and with the committee’s support, the young lobbyists from Las Cruces are on their way to obtaining something many adults fail to get: a legislative victory in Santa Fe.