Anaya recalled replying, “This is a children’s story!”
The newest bilingual “how” book from Anaya, the dean of Chicano literature, is “How Chile Came to New Mexico.” And readers should refrain from peppering Anaya with the same question because it, too, is a story for children … and for adults to read to them.
The charming, tasty tale, blending adventure and young love, credits the Pueblo people for introducing chile to what is now New Mexico.
It opens with Young Eagle being smitten with Sage. They live in a Pueblo village along the Rio Grande, a time long before the arrival of Europeans.
One evening Young Eagle’s family visited Sage’s. Her father declared that the corn and meat they eat are flavorless.
“Friends who come from the south tell us that the Aztecs have chile, a fruit that makes food taste good,” he states.
That’s his opening line in striking a deal with Young Eagle. The deal is this: If Young Eagle will retrieve chile seeds from the Aztecs, then he will permit Young Eagle to marry Sage.
Before embarking on his dangerous adventure, Sage places a turquoise necklace around Young Eagle’s neck to protect him from harm.
Off on his quest the young man goes. Of course, he has obstacles to overcome. Like a whirlpool in a river, a giant vulture and a tumbling boulder that, thanks to the necklace’s protective powers, misses Young Eagle.
After passing through friendly tribes, he comes to the Valley of the Aztecs, where a clan chief tells Young Eagle that because he survived the dangers on his journey, he’s earned the right to return home with a sack of chile seeds.
The story has happy endings. Young Eagle returned safely home with the chile seeds for Sage’s father. Sage and Young Eagle get the OK to marry.
The cooked green chile and the dry red chile made the meals of the Pueblo people appetizing.
After the story ends, the book has more to relate. It states that Spanish-speaking colonists, who found chile growing on Pueblo farms, had been using chile peppers from elsewhere in the world, but they learned to love the local chile, which has since become a food staple here today.
For those reading the Spanish text, there’s a glossary with New Mexico Spanish, standard use Spanish and English translation into colloquial/formal forms.