What does it mean to be New Mexican?
I thought that if I figured out the answer to this question, my identity problems would be solved. I’m one of those in between kids, growing up between two constellations of racial and ethnic meaning. It was never an easy answer to the question, what are you? When people found out my last name. It was never, oh I’m half white, half New Mexican. Because saying you’re New Mexican doesn’t mean anything to most people. To be New Mexican is to be mixed. So was I a mixed mixed kid?
New Mexico, along with other states in the Southwest, used to be a part of Mexico until the U.S. claimed that land for itself (no surprise there). Then the question became what to do with all these then Mexican citizens who are now a part of our country. The answer was to racialize them – make the lighter skinned New Mexican white citizens and the darker skinned people were not granted citizenship and remained in subpar human status.
My younger sister, Kate, recently sent me this New York Times article about the Indian slave trade in New Mexico.
Slavery and the United States go hand in hand but we don’t often think of Native American or Indian slavery. Indian slavery was a way of life in New Mexico. This led to mixing between the Spanish and indigenous populations – creating a mestizo population. Today, many native New Mexican people refer to themselves as Spanish or Hispanic. There is often a denial of any indigenous roots, although mixing undeniably occurred.
This article doesn’t give me an answer to who I am but it is an example of how complicated it is to look at our ancestry and what that means for us today.
And all of this mixing, of races, ethnicities, and cultures is reflected in the food of New Mexico.
This is how I was brought up eating Frito Pie. It’s not really a pie at all but more a bowl of meat chili either topped with or on top of a pile of fritos and served with many toppings including thick and delicious red chile sauce.
I learned how to make this easy red chile sauce from red chile powder while working at Cooking with Kids. We usually ate red chile from the frozen Bueno containers or my grandmother would make it from dried red chiles. So this is yet another way to get your red chile fix. And my goodness this stuff is liquid gold to me.
New Mexican Frito Pie
- 4 New Mexico red chiles
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
- 28 ounces diced tomatoes (in a can)
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can pinto beans
- 1 can kindey beans
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup red chile powder
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon masa or flour
- 1 1/2 cups water or broth
- fritos or corn chips
- sour cream or greek yogurt
- chopped onions
Place chiles in a heat proof bowl and pour boiling water over. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to an hour.
In a dutch oven or large pot heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil. Add onion. After onions have softened, about 5 minutes, add garlic and ground turkey. Season with oregano, salt, and cumin.
Cook until turkey is cooked all the way through. Add the can of tomatoes and the cans of beans.
Blend chiles and water. Add chiles and blended water mixture to the pot.
Cook chili for another hour or so, tasting and adding spices along the way.
Serve with fritos, sour cream, and chopped onions.
For the Red Chile sauce
In a saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute till lightly brown and fragrant.
Add masa or flour and whisk until a paste forms.
Add red chile and whisk till combined.
Slowly add the water a little bit at a time, whisking as you go until you have a thick sauce.