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By Rick Hendricks
[Editor's Note: This essay is excerpted with permission from Sunshine and Shadows in New Mexico’s Past: The Statehood Period 1912-Present, published by Rio Grande Books (www.RioGrandeBooks.com) in collaboration with the Historical Society of New Mexico.]
New Mexico is the only state in the United States that boasts a state question: “red or green?” While such a question may seem odd to outsiders, every New Mexican knows that this question refers to a preference of the state’s favorite food: chile. Indeed, chile has become central to the diet, culture, economy, and very identity of the state since at least 1913, the year following the achievement of statehood. The indisputable dominance of a single food was made possible by the work of two devoted scientists working at New Mexico State University: Fabián García and Roy Nakayama. Separately, they developed new, increasingly popular and marketable varieties of chile. Together they richly deserve to be known as the “chile kings” of New Mexico.
Fabián García was born in Chihuahua, Mexico on January 20, 1871, to Ricardo García and Refugio Romero de García.1 Orphaned of both parents soon after his birth, García moved to the Mimbres Valley in southwestern New Mexico with his paternal grandmother, Jacoba García, when he was two years old. Jacoba found work in the home of George Wilson and his wife in San Lorenzo in Grant County.2 They later moved to the home of Mr. and Mrs. R. J. White in Georgetown, near Santa Rita. There he received his first schooling. He came to the Mesilla Valley in 1885 with his grandmother who found employ with the Thomas Casad family. The Casads provided the opportunity and financial support for García to further his education through formal schooling. The fact that the Casad Orchard was one of the largest fruit-growing enterprises in the Mesilla Valley offered García practical experience working with orchard crops and the pests associated with them. Evidence of this experience is clear in his later research and writing. When Las Cruces College opened in 1888, García was said to have appeared with his McGuffey Reader in hand and sought admission.3
García became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1889 when he was eighteen years old and began coursework at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1890. Although a slight young man, García played on the New Mexico A&M football team.4 He was a member of the college’s first graduating class in 1894, earning a bachelor´s of science degree. García participated in the first Farmer’s Institute, held in Las Cruces on January 2-4, 1896, where he gave a paper on meteorology. Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree, García became an assistant in agriculture. García did special graduate study at Cornell University during the 1899-1900 school year. Among the classes he took there were: Animal Industry, Dairy Husbandry, Evolution of Cultured Plants, Literature of Horticulture, and Propagation of Plants.5
In 1906 he earned a M. S. A. at New Mexico A&M. After earning his master’s, García was named professor of horticulture and horticulturist at the experiment station. In his early years as an educator, García taught landscape gardening, olericulture, and pomology. Best known for his work in agriculture, García was also a keen entomologist. He often sent specimens to learned institutions around the United States, seeking information or adding to their collections. In 1907 a new American bee was named for him—Nomada (Micronomada) garciana.6 The habitat of this bee was listed as the College Farm in Mesilla Park, where García had obtained a specimen on May 1, 1907.
Fabián married Julieta J. Amador on August 14, 1907. She was daughter of Martín Amador, one of the most prominent citizens of the Mesilla Valley.7 In May 1908, García was preparing to build a house on land he owned facing the railroad depot by having a supply of adobes made.8 As time went by, he acquired numerous pieces of property throughout Las Cruces and Mesilla Park.
García spent the first two weeks of October 1908 with his colleague J. D. Tinsley in Albuquerque where they were in charge of the Doña Ana County exhibit at the New Mexico Territorial Fair.9 Tinsley was the vice-director of the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station in Las Cruces. García was often called upon to be a judge at such fairs and was frequently involved in preparing exhibits from the college.
Julieta gave birth to a son they named José. Their joy was to be short lived. José was born on May 4 and died on May 17, 1909. He is buried in the San José Cemetery in Las Cruces in the Amador plot on the south side of the mausoleum.