USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tamales’
Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Customs
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

No Such Thing As Too Many Parties

Original Text: “En el día de los Reyes Magos, se pone un bebé en la Rosca de Reyes. El que corta el pedazo con el bebé tiene que hacer una fiesta con tamales el día de la Candelaria el 2 de febrero.”

Transliteration: “On the day of the Kings Magicians, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. He who cuts the piece with the baby has to make a party with tamales the day of the Candelaria on 2nd of February.”

Translation: “On the day of the Three Kings, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. The person who cuts the piece with the baby has to host a party with tamales on the day of the Candelaria on February 2nd.”

 

This is a Mexican tradition, similar to that of New Orleans’ King Cake. You bake a baby doll (not an actual baby, of course) into a cake known as the Rosca de Reyes or “Thread of Kings” as it translates into English. The person who gets that piece is then in charge of hosting the celebration for the Feast of Candelaria. The Feast of Candelaria celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Tenerife, Canary Islands. The source fondly remembers celebrating both Three Kings Day and the Feast of Candelaria when he was younger. Much like Christmas, it brought the family together.

Both of the holidays involved in this tradition speak to Mexico’s roots in Christianity. The Feast of Candelaria, however, is made uniquely Mexican in this tradition because of the making and sharing of tamales, a food native to the country. While other Latin American countries do make tamales, none of them celebrate the Feast of Candelaria like Mexicans do. I also find that this speaks to Mexicans’ fondness of celebrations. This tradition guarantees that someone else is going to throw a party in the next few weeks. That’s three big celebrations in a row: Christmas, Three Kings Day, and the Feast of Candelaria.

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Holidays
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican-American Christmas Eve

EXAMPLE:

ANALYSIS:

My informant tells me that despite her ethnicity, she does definitely not associate herself as being culturally Mexican. It is telling then that despite these claims, the part that she associates with the most in this tradition are the Mexican foods and treats that her family indulges in. Clearly tamales, Mexican chocolate, and the special breads do not make their rounds frequently, but when they do they are welcomed with open arms and mouths.

It is also a tradition that celebrates the liminal moments – the moments of transition. They open the gifts together at midnight on Christmas Eve, the moment when it exactly becomes Christmas. They celebrate that together. I also think it is interesting that they have the child transitioning to adulthood as the one who distributes the presents. It is a form of initiation and celebration for that person who is growing up. He or she is the center of attention for that moment.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Foodways – Mexican

The informant learned the following Mexican foodways from her father’s great-aunt, who was Mexican.

She and her twin sister would make stovetop buttered tortillas and the family would make flatbreads and have tamales at Christmas: “There were little things that we would do when we were younger, um, like take a tortilla, put it on the oven [stove], uh, which had an open flame as opposed to most now that are just electric and just warm it up on there and put butter on it and eat it, uh, which I don’t see anyone do these days, but I remember definitely growing up doing little things like that. Making flatbreads, um . . . lots of peasant food, I guess you would call it for, you know, growing up in a big family in Southern California with slightly, slightly, um, slightly ethnic spin on things . . . I mean, my dad’s side of the family definitely, um, Mexican, Spanish, uh, foods that I would—they would make, like, um, tamales and stuff around Christmas time.”

The buttered tortillas were an anytime snack, but baking flatbread was special and tamales were a Christmas treat.

The informant describes the making of the tamales as “way complicated and a little boring . . . but they were good.”

The informant and her sister, as children of a cross-cultural marriage, inhabited a liminal space so far as traditional foodways went. The tortillas, clearly, have roots in the Hispanic tradition, but putting butter on them seems like a purely American way to eat bread. The informant seems to have rejected her ethnic childhood diet, as she calls it “peasant food,” which has a negative connotation. Alice Guadalupe Tapp, another Southern California resident with Mexican ancestry, writes about the tradition of having tamales at Christmas in her cookbook Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales, mentioning that her family sometimes made more than 600 tamales for the winter holidays (9).

Source:

Guadalupe Tapp, Alice. Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. New York: Ten Speed, 2002.

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