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Making tamales: a holiday tradition with a very personal history for so many

Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 20:08:41-05

PHOENIX — Making tamales is a holiday tradition in Mexico, but it’s also been embraced in other countries like the United States.

For many Mexican Americans, it is a tradition that helps them remember their beloved Mexico.

“There’s no Christmas without tamales. Those are days to be in harmony, so what better way than to enjoy it with a taste of Mexico,” said Olga Larios.

Tamales are a cultural pride; it reconnects Mexican Americans to our indigenous roots. The word “tamale” or in Spanish “tamal” comes in fact from the Nahuatl word, “tamalli."

Larios says the masa or maize dough, the perfect corn husks, and the meat is just some of the key ingredients for the best tamales. She says the most important ingredient is family.

“Since my grandparents, it’s always been tamales. We knew there will always be tamales with coffee on Christmas morning,” expressed Larios.

But this part of Mexican culture has also turned some migrant families, like the Larios’ into entrepreneurs.

“Today it's 400 tamales, but I hope I can start making many more,” said Larios.

Her joy for tamales is now helping her to pursue her dream, to be a small business owner.

“I thank God for helping me to grow my clientele little by little,” said Larios.

Larios sells tamales during the holidays and has recently purchased a food truck to help grow her business.

But making tamales isn’t an easy process. Preparing the meat, Larios says, is probably the easiest step. But mashing the masa is another story.

“We end up really tired, but happy,” expressed Larios.

At her home in Maryvale, the spicy smell of tamales is so strong that you can almost taste them. The carne with red chile, the spinach with cream, and the green chile with cheese make a very special recipe, one that reminds Larios of her beloved Mexico.

“It makes us feel close to our families, even though we’re far away," she said.

Whether you decide to buy or make tamales and have a "tamalada" this holiday season, remember tamales are more than food to many.

It’s a piece of culture, one with a deep and very personal history for so many.