Last Tuesday morning, Yolanda Pina and Liliana Soria set up a table, a retractable tent and a poster that read “Oxnard Tamale Festival”. The logo featured goat tamale wearing a Santa Claus cap during a Volkswagen Beetle race. They sit in front of Ocho Regiones, the site of the grand finale of the city’s last 14-year Latin food fiesta.
In 2019, the Tamale Festival brought together over 10,000 people in the center of Oxnard. Not many eaters are coming today.
Construction is blocked on one side of the Ochskiy district. The narrow streets of La Colonia, the historic district where the Oaxacan restaurant stands, made parking virtually impossible. The city’s presale campaign resulted in a total of 41 purchases of a box of four tamales for $ 10.
This was the second year in a row that Oxnard downgraded its tamale party to a to-go format due to COVID-19.
Pina, who helped organize the event almost from the very beginning, tried to give a positive impetus to the day.
“It’s incredible to know that tamales have been around for 9,000 years, and they continue here,” said a life-long Oxnard resident, specifying her age as “three times quinsanera.”
Then she fell silent. “These places are losing money,” Pina said. “We want to give it back to them.”
Tamale festivals take place this weekend throughout Southern California, from Indio to Long Beach, Placencia to the Alhambra. All personally.
Organizers of the city’s Oxnard Tamale festival refused to return to normal life.
Four months ago, they decided to repeat last year’s version: invite four restaurants within four weeks to sell their tamales to go. Pina and her staff were not particularly happy with this decision, but no one regretted it.
Oxnard was struck by the coronavirus. The 416 deaths from COVID-19 represent 35% of Ventura County’s total population, although the city is home to only 24% of Ventura County’s population.
So when Oxnard looked at the COVID-19 stats in front of them back in July and tried to predict what they might look like in the winter we currently live in, the decision to only make takeaway “was a simple matter,” said Jesse Tapia. curator for recreation in the city and chief of Pina.
“We’ve been hit hard,” said the 33-year-old. “We are still in pain. Tamales is one of the highlights of the season. But holding the festival in person right now so that people could get together was simply inappropriate. You have to respect the creators and the community. “
With the Omicron variant now on fire around the world, Oxnard’s decision not to host its own tamale festival in person no longer seems overly cautious; it’s completely prophetic.
“I have not heard any complaints about doing it this way,” said fellow Tapia executive, Marisa Eastlake. “Who doesn’t like tamale?”
Inside the kitchen, Ocho Region Francisco and Griselda Vega operated steaming pots that held 200 tamales that they were about to sell that day. The husband and wife team took part in the festival for the first time last year and won the Best Tamale prize, in which the chef holds a knife in one hand and a fish in the other – but the tamale is not visible.
In addition to Oaxacan tamales wrapped in banana leaves, Vegas also offered two varieties unique to Michoacan, a native of Griselda: triangular corundums and savory sweet uchepo.
“Americans love Oaxaca. Mexicans not from Oaxaca think they’re, well, interesting, ”Griselda, 30, said with a chuckle. “I hope they like the Tamale where I’m from.”
“A lot of people don’t know about it because they didn’t grow up with them,” objected Francisco, 32. “But their minds change when they try them.”
I asked him how 2021 was for Ocho.
“Everything went well,” he said. “But today it will help.”
Approximately eleven o’clock in the morning is the official start time of sales. There were no clients. While they were waiting for someone, someone to appear, Pina and her co-workers talked – what else? – tamales.
She said that one of her favorite things about the Oxnard Tamale is striving to include its namesake from all parts of Latin America, not just the little ones wrapped in corn husks native to northern and central Mexico that actually served as tamale in the southern part. country. California since the days of the missions. Pina and others began to think about tamales of the past: Texan-Mexican, stuffed with fried beans, Hallacas from Venezuela, Humitas from Ecuador.
“I remember Guatemalan,” Eastlake said. “One of the older people I work with was so excited about the opportunity to eat homemade tamales from his home country that I thought he was about to cry.”
“This is how I get my own Tamale education,” added Pina. “I grew up with only pork, but that’s because my father was from Jalisco.”
“I don’t know how to make tamales,” admitted 30-year-old Soria. aunt in the family that makes them. “
“Then I have to show you,” Pina retorted. “I do mine with brisket!”
The first customer of the day has arrived unexpectedly.
Sarah Cook, an employee of the University of California, Santa Barbara, contacted Soria for her order. She entered Ocho Region and left with two bags. “It’s very convenient,” said the 39-year-old masked man. “We need to adapt, grow and change in these times, and they made it work.”
Next up was Jeffrey Carranza, Office Manager for the Oxnard School District. “It’s impossible to imagine a Latin Christmas without a tamale,” said the 32-year-old. “You unfold the gifts and then you unfold the tamales.”
“I want to support Oxnard, so this was a great way to do it,” said Leslie Mendes, a Wells Fargo employee who stopped by during lunchtime.
Customers streamed for the next three hours. They parked twice, or lit their dangers in the red zones, or stayed in the middle of the street while someone rushed to eat. Every time someone approached, Pina shouted “¡One more! “To Vegas.
White or Hispanic, old or young, white collar or working class – Oxnard came to the Tamale festival.
“Part of me says, ‘This is not a tamale! “- joked 65-year-old Marisela Ramirez. She held four bags. “I always want them like my mom did. But exploring different regions is great. And it’s nice to see how diverse Oxnard is, even among us Latinos. “
After lunchtime had cooled down, I placed my order. Corunda was about the size of a mega-wonton, but gorgeous; the two Oaxacan tamales were soft and impressive. The real star was Uchepo, who is hard to find in Southern California restaurants despite our large Michoacan Population. The order included small cups with four spices: Negro moth, Jocock (a saltier type of cream), and red and green salsa, which was set on fire.
I planned to eat only slices of each tamale before heading home; I ate them all in a few minutes.
“The thought is not at all about canceling the Tamale festival,” Tapia said before leaving. “It’s about helping the community, and the Tamale are doing it.”
“But hopefully knock on wood, next year we’ll be back to normal,” Pina said.
“Hope, I hope in God,” Eastlake said, “this is the last time like this.”