Tamales. Tradition. Love.

For as long as I can remember, we make tamales at Christmas. The joke in my family goes that even when money is tight, it gives us something to unwrap Christmas morning.

Our tamales are a dish of corn masa (dough) spread on a cornhusk (hoja). The masa is filled with meat, beans or other fare, wrapped in the husk and then steamed.

 

 

Sounds simple? Then you’ve never made tamales.

This year, four generations of family descend on my house for our annual tamalada. With recipes orally passed down through the women in my family, we carry on a tradition that dates back centuries.

As we work, the Tejano tunes mingle with the Christmas carols. We wrestle the fridge to fit a freshly procured pig’s head. ‘Tis the season for tamales.

Friends and family form a revolving crew of cooks, choppers, spreaders, fillers and wrappers, bound together for the hours it takes to finish the first batch of tamales.

 

 

Gossip and family stories fill these hours.

My 88-year old grandmother works among us. Her hands have slowed, but her critiques have not. Abuela Maria, Wella as we call her, is our tamale matriarch – the shrewdest of food critics disguised as a Mexican Ms. Claus in a white holiday winter cap.

 

As I listen to the stories of my Wella, it is clear, times have changed.

We are a different era of women that sit at the table to make our tamales.

 

 

Our burdens seem light when compared to those of my great mother. Her children were sent out to cotton fields as migrant workers not to the ball fields our kids know.

Our leanest days seem more abundant than those of my Abuela Maria, left a widow at 52. She washed laundry and cooked meals for construction workers to feed her family of seven while silently tending her grief.

 

 

Our opportunities seem ripe when compared to my mother, her name changed from Maria to Mary by her teachers. As one of the few Spanish-speaking girls in an all-white school in Texas, she first had to cross the bridges of culture that separated her to make this life we know now.

Not long ago, a friend asked me,

“What are the cords that keep you tethered?”
“What are the cords that keep you captive to the past?”

I reflected on the emotional cords I had to my family, to my mother, to the traditions and ideologies and the love that has kept me tethered.

She said sometimes we need to cut these cords to set each other free.

As I watch my six-year old daughter Avery orbit the scene, all curious eyes and unburdened heart, I feel grace. I feel the lightness of the things we have set free.

In the same moment, sitting with my mother and my grandmother, I realize there are cords tethering our history that are not meant to be undone.

There is a cord that runs through us. It is a fiber. It is a connection. It is a knowing that the same blood and strength that run through their veins runs in mine.

Over the hours we sit together, stirring chiles and removing seeds, boiling meat that has simmered in pots that bear the patina of years and love, I stare in reverence for the women that came before me.

 

 

 

The making of their tamales was not so simple. Their recipes were born from the labors of life and loss and love.

In the company of one another, the tamalada is our therapy. We spread the corn masa over the hojas and the past is gently smoothed too – understood.

This is my Christmas gift. I am cradled and wrapped and strengthened in the stories of my family, of our tamales. This is our legacy, one made of cornhusk and grit and love.

 

 

For a local sampling of Pura Tradicion tamales and salsa, or to learn more about the art and oral tradition of tamale-making, you can contact me on Facebook or at www.renaissancemoms.com.Photos courtesy of Michael Pearson.

 

 

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