La guerra de los Chiles: A Poetic Defense of Biodiversity, Seed Sovereignty, and Chile

-- Enrique Lamadrid

Click the play button below to listen to Trovo 

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Click the play button below to listen to Corrido

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       The idea of personified chiles debating each other seems cartoonish at first, until you realize the gravity of their poetic arguments.  At stake in these (agri)cultural wars is seed sovereignty, a millennial genetic legacy, and the food security of the planet.  The grand prize in the contest is public opinion, the sympathy of the people. 

       In celebration of Vandana Shiva's visit to New Mexico in 2009, Estevan Arellano --the great advocate of traditional agriculture and the future of food, Cipriano Vigil -- a New Mexican Folk Music Master, and Enrique Lamadrid -- a Spanish Professor --  composed and recited a “Trovo”, and sang traditional poetry, a “Corrido” to honor Vandana and the agricultural heritage of Nuevo México, manifested and symbolized in our beloved Chiles.

       In this ancient tradition of the Controversia Trovada with roots in the mountains of the Alpujarras in Andalucía and the irrigated gardens of Murcia and Nuevo México, the fortunes of the people are debated with humor and satire in an improvised poetic duel.  The Corrido or narrative ballad form of Greater Mexico is more directly combative.  Cipriano Vigil takes off the gloves and charges that “genetic engineering” is surely the devil’s work:

El chile y sus semillas

pertenecen a nuestro estado,

si las perdemos del todo

seguro nos mandan al diablo.

 The chile and its seeds

belongs to our state,

 if we lose them completely

 we’ll be sent to hell.

            In one corner of the slam ring is El Chimayoso, the famous chile of Chimayó, New Mexico -- thin-skinned, short, and sun-stressed, who offers the best flavors of the land from which he is born.  His opponent, “El Number Ten” as we have named him,is a novelty of agricultural science, born in a laboratory, supported by the 2008 New Mexico Legislature, the motherless child of so-called “genetic engineering.” 

            “Number Ten’s” predecessor, Chile Number Nine was of more honorable stock.  He was developed through selective breeding and the tireless work of horticulturalist Fabián García, who introduced him in 1921.  The staple of the chile revolution of the twentieth century, Chile Number Nine gave birth to all the modern varieties such as Big Jim.  But as connoisseurs can attest, complexity and flavor were sacrificed to achieve size, uniformity, and dependability.

            A stepchild of the Second Green Revolution, “Number Ten” is unnaturally resistant to herbicides (aka. Roundup Ready . With insecticidal toxins grafted into his leaves and fruit, he is ready for mass production in fields and factories.  He comes on like a rock star, but his children are sterile (vanos in Spanish), and he dispossesses the people who will mortgage their farms to pay for his seed and chemicals.  In the end he doesn’t even taste good.  He falls ill, panics, and tries to make friends, then is vanquished and banished for good in El Trovo de los Chiles

Chile Número 10
¿Cómo vas, mi Chimayoso, How goes it, friend from Chimayó,
cómo has pasado tu tiempo? how have you spent your time?
De la universidad vengo I have come from the university
a formarte un argumento. to propose to you an argument.
Chile Chimayoso
Bien, y a ti, ¿cómo te va? Well, for you, how goes it?
Y ahora te preguntaré, And now I will ask you,
por tu gracia y por tu merced,   by your grace and by your mercy,
dígame, ¿quién es usted? tell me, who are you?
 Chile Número 10
Por mi gracia y por mi nombre, By my grace and by my name,
yo soy el Chile “Number Ten.” I am Chile Number Ten.
En el futuro no hay más, In the future there is nothing more
que me vean que me ven. may they know me as the see me.
En las tiendas más hermosas In the finest stores
allí me hallará usted. There you will find me.
Y al mundo he venido And to the world I have come
y es muy claro y evidente, and it is clear and evident,
de mi probete he brotado from my test tube I have come
a conquistar a tu gente. to defeat your people.
Chile Chimayoso
Verdad, soy el Chimayoso, True, I am the Chimayó Chile,
y a Dios le pido la paz, and I ask peace of God,
Número Diez, ¡qué recio vas! Chile Number Ten, you are so speedy!
Y también yo te diré, I will also tell you,
que los del laboratorio that many in the laboratory
se suelen quedar a pie. will end up on foot.
Chile Número 10
Yo soy el Chile “Number Ten,”  I am Chile Number Ten,
en taquitos soy sabroso. on taquitos I am so delicious.
En wraps y con carnes fritas In wraps and with fried meats
y en sopaipillas generoso. and on sopaipillas so generous.
Con frijoles victorioso, Victorious with beans,
y en puntos bien arreglados, and in meals so well presented,
bien parezco ahí en las mesas I look so good on the table
con los huevos estrellados. with fried eggs.
 Chile Chimayoso
Soy el mismo Chimayoso I am also the Chile from Chimayó,
y te pondré mis paradas, here to slow you down,
chiquito pero picoso little but piquant
mantengo a mis manadas I maintain all my people
con tortillas enchiladas, tortillas smothered in chile,
con frijoles de bolita! with bolita beans!
‘Ora te daré noticias. Now I will give you notice.
¡Qué Chile Número Diez! Oh you Number Ten Chile!
Por comprarte cada año In order to buy you
ya no alcanza pa’ camisas. no money is left for shirts.
Chile Número 10
Yo soy el Chile “Number Ten” I am the Number Ten Chile
y de todos conocido, known so well to all,
en cocinas industriales in kitchens of industry 
de todos soy preferido. I am preferred by all.
Vengo de laboratorios, I come from laboratories,
de las universidades.  from the universities. 
Con satisfación completa With complete satisfaction
en las salsas comerciales in commercial salsas 
en los botes enlatados, in cans and jars,
doy gusto verde o colorado. I deliver both green or red. 
Chile Chimayoso
Soy el Chile Chimayoso, I am also the Chile from Chimayó,
llevo mis cuentas cabales. I keep careful accounts.
Qué bien mantengo a mi gente, How well I maintain my people,
mateándose en sus huertas. caring for plants in their gardens.
Cuando los veas formales And when you see them all ready
y con determinación, and with determination,
me venden en buen precio they can sell me at a handsome prices 
pa’ comprarse pantalón. so they can afford good pants.
Chile Número 10 
Siempre soy el “Number Ten”  I am also Chile Number Ten
distinguido de la ciencia, scientific and distinguished,
en países orientales in the eastern countries
he sido incumbrado. I have been exhalted.
En libras y kilos me pesan,  In pounds and kilos I’m measured,
en toneladas me han comprado. by the ton I am purchased.
Chile Chimayoso
También, soy el Chimayoso I am also from Chimayó
y aquí te hago la guerra. and here I take you on in battle.
¡Qué bien mantengo a mi gente How well I maintain my people
con solo labrar la tierra! for cultivating the land!
Número Diez presumido, And you, haughty Number Ten,
qué sepa el mundo entero, may the whole world know,
tu semilla no se guarda.  your seeds cannot be saved.
Sacrificas a mi gente, You sacrifice my people,
tu semilla no se halla       your seed cannot be found
sólo si andas con dinero. if not bought with money.
Chile Número 10
Yo soy el Chile “Number Ten,”  I am Chile Number Ten,
Chimayoso ya te digo. friend from Chimayó I tell you.
Despierta si estás dormido, Wake up if you are asleep,
esto te noticiaré, of this will I advise you,
todos los capitalistas all the capitalists
están preferiéndome. are preferring me.
Chile Chimayoso
También soy el Chimayoso I am also the one from Chimayó
y en esto no pongas duda, and have no doubt of this,
con sólo agua y sol nazco I am born of water and sun 
y a Diosito le pido paz. and only seek peace from God.
¡No vivas tan orgulloso! Do not live with such pride!
Tú que sin padre ni madre You lacking father or mother
de nuestro mundo saldrás. from our world will take leave.
Chile Número 10
Verdad, soy el “Number Ten,”  True, I am Number Ten,
pero me dio un dolor. but I am hurting.
Ya me voy enfermando, I am growing sick,
¡que me traigan el Doctor, bring the Doctor to me,
que sea mi defensor! so he can be my defender!
Y si él lo determina And if he decides
llevarme de emergencia, to take me in emergency
a la universidad to the university,
y me dé una medicina. to give me some medicine.
Chile Chimayoso
Yo nací en Teotihuacán I was born in Teotihuacán
y soy de origen divino, and am of divine origin,
en mesas de los dioses, at the tables of the gods,
en casorios y velorios. at weddings and wakes.
Ahora sabrán señores, Now you will realize, people,
de mi hacen el caribe from me is made caribe
y en caldillos pa’ los reyes. and fine soups fit for kings.
Chile Número 10
Ya doblemos la cuestión, Let us double the stakes,
no quiero pelear contigo. I do not want to fight with you.
Quiero que seas mi amigo,  I want you to be my friend,
pariente te digo también cousin I call you as well.
Somos del mismo corazón We come from the same heart
aunque en probete naci. though I am born from a test tube.
Chile Chimayoso
Dios me crió para picar God raised me to spice up
a mis tres hermanitas,  my three sisters,
maíz, frijol y calabacita corn, beans, and squash
con todas para saborear. with all to savor.
De mi hacen tamalitos, From me they make tamales,
en tortillas soy el rey, on tortillas I am the king,
campeón de los calditos, champion of stews,
también de los posolitos. and also of delicious posoles.
Chile Número 10
Aunque sea el “Number Ten,” Even though I am Number Ten,
Chimayoso te digo, friend from Chimayó I tell you,
bor vía de la amistad, by way of friendship,
no quiero pelear contigo. I wish not to fight you.
Chile Chimayoso
Yo renací en chinampas,  I was reborn in the floating gardens,
de la Madre Colorada, of the Red Earth Mother,  
hijo también de Tláloc,  son also of Tlaloc,
Señor de agua y lluvia.  Lord of water and rain.
También soy el ahijado I am also the godson
de Señora Chicomecóatl, of Lady Chicomecóatl,
madre del mantenimiento. mother of nourishment.
Soy el más aprevenido, I am the most prepared,
eso es claro y evidente. as is clear and evident. 
Vete ya de estas tierras, Go now from these lands,
ya no eres de mi gente. you are no longer of my people.
Chile Número 10
Aúnque sea el “Number Ten,” Even though I am Number Ten,
Chimayoso ya te digo, friend of  Chimayó I tell you,
no me estés avergozando. do not embarrass me.
Soy hijo de pocas madres I am the son of few mothers
y a mi padre no conozco and I never knew my father,
también mis hijos son vanos. and my children are sterile.
Necesito tu amistad, I need your friendship,
quiero que seas mi amigo. I want you for my friend.
Chile Chimayoso
Verdad yo soy Chimayoso, True I am from Chimayó,
amigo recién llegado, listen up you newcomer,
los que se creen del estribo many who think they’re in the stirrup
siempre los dejo a pie.  I have left them behind walking.
También esto te diré, I will also tell you this,
¡tú que te empinas pa’l norte, even though you head north,
chile de hule, relajoso! you lazy rubber chile!
Chile Número 10
Yo soy Chile del futuro,  I am the Chile of the future,
soy el mero “Number Ten.” the venerable Number Ten.
Te hablo con toda verdad, I speak to you in all truth,
ya doblemos la cuestión, let us double the bets,
seré tu mejor amigo I will be your best ally
por vía de la amistad. by way of friendship.
Chile Chimayoso
¿Sabes qué, soy Chimayoso? You know what?  I am from Chimayó.
Con esto ya me despido, And with this I take my leave,
ya mi trabajo es puro My work is pure
porque desciendo de Dios. because I descend from God.
No como tú, enfermizo, Not like you, oh sickly one,
nacido del laboratorio. born in the laboratory.
Nunca, nunca permito I will never, never permit
que a mi gente hagas daño. that you injure my people.
A carga cerrada entrego, I contend and close this contest,
y todos queden entendidos, and may all understand,
¡que ya el Chimayoso ganó! that the Chimayoso has triumphed!
Chile Número 10
No, no me doy por vencido, No, I still won’t give up,
¿quién dice que has ganado? who says that you have won?
Chile Chimayoso
Es el pueblo que en su juicio The people in their wisdom
de mi sabor han apreciado. have appreciated my taste.

     Sure enough, traditional agriculture and its stewards are under attack across the planet.  Thousands of crop varieties cultivated over many centuries are in danger.  Genetic research in itself is not the problem. The draconian marketing strategies of multi-national companies and the global monopolies they seek are the Frankenstein’s monster that would destroy the agricultural legacy of humanity and endanger the food supply of the world.  Monoculture - the reliance on fewer and fewer crop varieties, and the dependence on hybrids and “genetically engineered” seeds are the goals of both Green Revolutions.  But it is the Second which actively punishes the ancient practice of seed saving and prosecutes farmers whose crops are wind contaminated by company patented gene pollen.  Greater crop yields are promised and achieved, but at such great social, biological, and environmental cost.

            Vandana Shiva tells us that one of the most cynical strategies of the Second Green Revolutions is to desensitize people by targeting their most culturally iconic plants, such as Eggplants in India and Chiles in New Mexico.  If people accept the “genetic engineering” of their signature cultural crops, then they will not notice or complain when the Big Four move in - corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola. 

            Join us, and the people of the world in celebrating and defending the agricultural legacy of the planet.  ¡Que viva el Chile Chimayoso! ¡Que viva la biodiversidad!  ¡Que viva la agricultura tradicional!  ¡Que viva la comida nativa! ¡Y al infierno con los vanos!

Long live the Chile Chimayoso!  Long live biodiversity!  Long live traditional agriculture!  Long live Native Foods!  And to the Devil With Those That Are Vain! 

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Seed Freedom

Percy Schmeiser


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