Christmas signifies tamale season for much of Hispanic culture. This year, the Los Angeles County Council of the American Legion celebrated that reality for its first Tamale Festival.
Hundreds of people representing American Legion posts, Sons of The American Legion squadrons and American Legion auxiliary units in the greater Los Angeles area gathered on the first Saturday in December at Station 139 in Alhambra, Calif. , for the day-long event, where the parking lot was filled with live mariachi music and the aroma of tamales.
Jere Romano, who serves as the commander of the LA County Council, said the festival was designed to unite the region’s American Legion family in joy, and he did. “The goal was to bring these Legion families together, to have fun and have the opportunity to raise funds not only for Los Angeles County Council, but also for individual positions, units and squadrons, and for the post that hosts us. “Twelve posts from the region joined in the fun.
Karla Gonzalez, 2nd vice commander of the 19th district, said she had more than one reason to participate. “I’m here to volunteer to represent not only my position, but I make my grandmother’s recipe,” she explained. Her recently deceased grandmother brought the recipe from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and it has been with her family ever since. While she won’t divulge all of the recipe’s secrets, she did explain how the flavor is captured in a potato slice inside the tamale. “The potato soaks up all the flavor of the meat, the seasons and everything … if you can taste that potato, you can taste everything else.”
Judging the tamales was no easy task given the wide variety of flavors and cooking styles in the competition. Former California American Legion Department Commander Hugh Crooks was one of three judges in this competition and found that chili is much easier to judge than tamales, which vary widely from one recipe to another. “Nothing is consistent,” he said. “The colors are different, the tastes are different and the way they are made is totally different. Even masa, corn, can be cooked in totally different ways.
Commander Romano said the event fulfilled the mission – both as a fun celebration day and as a team-building experience for the county posts who worked together to make it a success. “It was an opportunity to bring together these units, these squadrons, these positions… to really work together to make a difference. Not only in the Los Angeles County community, but as a position as they had to work together as a team. “