Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tamalada Tradition

Carmen Lomas Garza

With Christmas season comes tradition and family. Whether its blood family or your created family it’s a time for sharing stories, learning lessons, doing some community organizing, teaching, bonding and most definitely lots of fun. For me and my family it means gather to make TAMALES! From many people I hear about Christmas turkey or ham but for me its tamales all the way; its not Christmas season for me with out them; so once again we gathered to make the tamales.

The tradition runs deep in the Latino collective memory since tamales predate most of western “civilization”. Tamales can be traced back as early as 5000 BC. They were served as a nutritious and portable food for Aztec, Mayan, and Incan warriors. It is understood that the Aztecs greeted their incoming conquerors with the tightly wrapped festival food. Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent celebrate by sharing this tradition of generosity and good will by making and then giving out tamales as gifts.

If you have never done it it’s quite a process. Soak the leaves, dry them, and sort them. Manteca and your hands in the messy masa to get just the right consistency, it’s an art in itself. Then make the filling, whatever you wish. Tradition for some says de vendado as a friend reminded me and then started the debate about border town puerco and red sauce and is it true that pina and cinnamon are now called nouvelle/fusion/ pochada tamales? All I know was that it was messy, creative, and lots of fun! I felt like I was home.

When we figured out the right consistency, we were ready to spread the masa, add the filling, roll, tie in a bundle, and steam. We each shared memories of making them and tried to remember the tips from elders about each step. Thanks to ancestors our tamalada gave us several dozen to share among us. As the TexMex music continued to play in the background and the kitchen was filled with leaves, masa, and the smell of garlic and fresh steamed tamales; we sat back and smiled. We realized we had done a good job; it had been our turn to keep the tradition alive.

Happy holidays to you and yours….and I wish you peace, love, and TAMALES!

Here's a book filled with a culturally relevant story and great art to share with young ones as you pass on the tradition of making tamales. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto and Ed Martinez

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