Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Constructive Chaos and the Quest for the Perfect Masa

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Constructive Chaos and the Quest for the Perfect Masa

Article excerpt

As a member of the fifth generation in this tradition of "tamale day," I consider myself history in the making. When my family first introduced me to this day, I looked at it as no different than any other Saturday or Sunday family gathering. But by the time I was 8 years old, the uniqueness of this holiday began to resonate with me.

This annual celebration is marked by constructive chaos, full of food, drinks, games and laughter. Even I had a role in the tradition: I was the masa mixer. Taking part wasn't considered a chore, but more of a privilege. I stopped complaining about waking up at the crack of dawn, I prepared myself by grabbing an old T-shirt, and I wasn't afraid to get messy. I took it very seriously, or at least as seriously as an 8-year-old could. I can't give away any family secrets but I remember pouring in a little bit of this and a sprinkle of that. I would take turns with my cousins on the step stool, punching the masa in and squeezing it through my fingers as if it were Play-Doh. After that we'd take a spoonful and pass it around for the taste test. Inevitably it seemed to always heed more salt, and the quest for the perfect batch of masa would continue.

As I grew older, my responsibilities increased. I joined my aunt Toni-Ann and grandfather on the big day's early morning errands, every year until I went to college, when only finals could keep me from attending.

My mom would wake me up around 6:30 a.m. I would move to the living room couch and sneak in 15 more minutes of sleep until I heard the honk in my driveway. …

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