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Fronteras: San Antonio’s Tamal Institute Explores The Culture And History Of Tamales And Tamaladas

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Tamales aren’t just a treat that we enjoy on the holidays. Its origins date as far back as 7000 B.C., and a new institution aims to further explore the importance behind the staple corn husk dish.

The Tamal Institute was created by San Antonio’s Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to explore the origins, history and cultural significance of tamales in the region. It grew out of San Antonio’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

“This is really part of our charge as a UNESCO Creative City to preserve our culinary traditions,” said Colleen Swain, Director of the City of San Antonio World Heritage Office. “We want to preserve those roots, but yet also explore the innovations that are occurring.”

The work behind this cuisine is no easy feat and is often achieved with large groups of people. Families and friends will gather to assemble and prepare dozens of tamales, an event known as a tamalada. But this tradition will likely come to a halt this year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country and much of the world.

“We know that families in Latin America and Latinos here in the U.S. have very, very strong family traditions,” said Cristina Ballí, director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. “And then we know that making tamales is just such a key part of the holidays. I imagine people will still be continuing with that tradition in their homes, likely with precautions.”

Ballí said while there may be a tamalada void this holiday season, online virtual events could be a solution for some families or for those spending the holidays socially distant from vulnerable friends and family members.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren