University of California
In the small farming community of Santa Ana y Lobos at the southeastern edge of Guanajuato in Central Mexico, six children of ages 2 to 10 engage in very elaborate imaginative play. Next to the courtyard fence in a shady spot, Sara aged 10 and Cristina aged 7 managed to organize an enactment of tortilla making amidst countless interruptions. The sisters, with the elder firmly guiding the others, call out directions and revisions to each other as they all simultaneously and continuously constitute and negotiate the emerging event. Sara and Cristina must chide Lalo aged 3 for his incessant requests for more water and temporarily banish Juana aged 2 for carelessly smashing a prized jarrita, a miniature clay jar. These sisters demonstrate in play their mastery of a complex skill central to attaining competence in the most basic, yet the most difficult, achievement of Mexico's culinary arts. To make tortillas, they gather implements, grind corn (dirt), mix the result with water to make masa (dough), shape balls of masa, pat them out to form rounds, and cook them on a comal (round cookstone).
Twenty to 30 feet away, adults and adolescent siblings at work or at rest after long hours in the fields share checking out details of care only when something may be amiss. They call out only when a child elsewhere needs tending or when Juana, shamed by being sent away, goes to her father who with an older brother teases her gently. Using a younger male cousin as a lure, first Sara, then Cristina ask Juana to rejoin them. Juana refuses Sara's invitation. A few moments later Juana walks to the infant now held by Cristina. She sweetly chucks him under the chin, murmuring niño = niño = niño/little boy = little boy = little boy as she accepts the second face-saving bid to go back to the group activity. Soon Sara seats her among the others and encourages her several times saying, ¡echa una tortillita!/pat out a little tortilla!. With little urging, Juana awkwardly and enthusiastically takes a ball of masa prepared by her sisters and pats it into the proper flattened shape.
—Zukow (AMR, March 3, 19821)