Tamales: History, Regional Differences, and Family Cultural Interpretations

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Tamales: History, Regional Differences, and Family Cultural Interpretations


Tradition has been said to mirror a way of life. Observation has concluded that participants in tradition “actively construct as well as reflect culture and community” (Sacks 275). For most people in the 21st century, tradition only reveals itself during special times or certain seasons. For others it is simply a way of life. The foodways of Mexicans and Native Americans are of particular interest in this study because of the food that grew from necessity and is maintained as sacred or reserved for only special occasions. The tamale is one such food. Significantly changed and altered throughout history it has remained a
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Discussions during tamale making concerned the proper construction of the tamale itself. Masa not too thick, filling not too scarce, and wrapping assembled just right. Conversation that enveloped the atmosphere included everything from local gossip and men, to jobs and kids. Much of what I learned about the meaning of life and womanhood came from these long days of constructing not only tamales, but of family, gender, and a sense of heritage that would become a passion.

In this essay, I will discuss the history of tamales; their origin and reason for existence. I will review the traditional tamale and its construction as well as introduce the ever-growing market of new and improved types of tamales. I will entwine different perspectives and narratives of personal encounters with tamales, their production, and how it has come to affect their personal lives in relation to race, gender and family or community roles. Finally I will discuss the differences and similarities in tamales in my native state of New Mexico, and in my new home state of Colorado, and I will introduce tamales from and around the world in Spanish speaking countries, including a focus on such ethnicities as Mexican and Native Americans. I hope to prove that tamales are more than just good food; they belong to a people who work diligently for the sake of their family and their heritage.

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