This has always been one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite artists. “Tamalda” by Carmen Lomas Garza depicts the Latina tradición Navideña of tamal-making as a family.
Every year as I make tamales by myself, I think wistfully what it would be like to be surrounded by generations of women, each of us with our own task, but sharing laughter and conversation, working together to make tamales and memories.
Growing up in an Anglo household means my grandmothers, my mother, aunts and sisters do not know how to make tamales. This is not a family tradition from my side of the family that I am continuing, rather it is one that I’m trying to start for my own children – although they are boys. Maybe I will teach their wives, or their daughters some day – but when they think of Navidad, I want them to close their eyes and taste tamales – I want them to have that connection to their roots.
I’ve been asked why I don’t making tamales with my Suegra, which is logical since Suegra has certainly participated in many “tamaldas” with her sisters – but she goes back to El Salvador each year for the winter, so it isn’t something I share with her and it’s not something I learned from her. Our recipes are very different; Suegra favors the green banana leaves for wrapping her mild-flavored tamales, and I prefer corn husks to wrap my spicy tamales. Like many things between us, making tamales together probably wouldn’t work out.
I’m not as saddened about making tamales by myself anymore though, because this past weekend, my mother, sisters and nephew came to my house for our annual cookie-baking. As I watched my mother alternate between rolling out the dough and moving galletas in and out of the oven, while my sisters and the boys sat around the table decorating the trays of cut out sugar cookies she provided, I remembered the Carmen Lomas Garza painting.
Maybe an annual “tamalada” is not possible, but our “galletada” is close enough.