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New Mexico senator Bill Soules wants to make roasted chile the official state aroma


Every state in the United States has its own flag, flower, animal and song.


SIMON: "O Fair New Mexico." But New Mexico might soon become the first state with an official aroma. State Senator Bill Soules is behind the proposal. He joins us now from Santa Fe. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

BILL SOULES: Good morning. It's a real pleasure to be with you.

SIMON: What does New Mexico smell like?

SOULES: Well, in the fall, New Mexico is filled with the aroma of our famous green chile roasting. Every grocery store in the state has one of their big roasters going. And as we drive by, we smell that, and we know it's time to go and get some of that chile, sack it up, put it in our freezer.

SIMON: Ah, I have been there for that, and it really is soul stirring. Now, New Mexico grows about 60% of chiles in the U.S.?

SOULES: That's correct. We're one of the largest producers. I - probably some in Texas and California, but it's very unique to New Mexico and very much a part of our culture.

SIMON: Your district grow a lot of them?

SOULES: It does. I live in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico, and just north is Hatch, which is world famous for its Hatch Chile Festival each fall.

SIMON: This idea came from fifth graders?

SOULES: Yes. In November, I was at a fifth grade class in what they had for an enrichment day, and they invited me as someone to come talk about being a state senator. I started asking them, anybody know what our official state bird is? - the roadrunner - or state mammal? - The black bear. We have a state insect, the tarantula hawk wasp. And New Mexico also has an official state question.

SIMON: (Laughter). Red or green?

SOULES: Red or green?

SIMON: (Laughter).

SOULES: If you want both, you're supposed to answer Christmas. And every restaurant knows that. And the students caught on that real quick. And one student said, I really, really like in the fall, when the green chile - I can smell it roasting over at my grandma's house. And that led to a discussion about, let's see about making an official aroma for the state of New Mexico of the chile roasting in the fall.

SIMON: You know, we know how divisive politics is these days. So has there been an active group opposing this?

SOULES: There has been no one opposing. Everyone I bring this up to gets that smile on their face, where they know that aroma. They've got their own story. In New Mexico, we talk about - we all have our chile story, and everybody catches on right away. Often before I even tell them what we're thinking about for the official aroma, they go, oh, it's got to be chile roasting, right? I mean, they are quick to do that. It's very much a part of who we are as New Mexicans.

SIMON: Well, you're a true statesman. So what has to happen to make this - chiles the state aroma?

SOULES: Well, this actually is a bill. So it's got to go through the full process. It's been through one committee in the Senate. Then it's going to go to the Senate floor. And on the Senate floor, we are planning on having the big chile roasters. They look like a 55-gallon drum with wire mesh on it turning on a spit in front of the big flames that do the roasting.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh, this sounds wonderful.

SOULES: But then just as we were ready to introduce this bill, we're going to have the attendants bring in fresh roasted chile to each of the legislators. So the whole chamber is going to be filled with this amazing aroma of chile roasting. And then the governor would sign the bill. I'm hoping the governor will actually go down to the fifth grade elementary class and sign the bill with the students. But I suspect they will greet her with all of their favorite recipes for chile.

SIMON: Wow, and probably have to wipe a little green chile off their chin, too. Bill Soules is a state senator from New Mexico. Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.

SOULES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.