Where I come from, tamales go with Christmas. The two are inseparable. But making tamales from scratch is a labor of love. I don't mean picking up ingredients at the store and putting something together from meat in a package and sauces in a can. I mean from SCRATCH. And making a lot of them takes hands, lots of hands.
My senior year in high school, I watched in awe as the mothers of some of my classmates undertook making tamales for a fundraiser for our class. The senior class sold tamales for Christmas. But these moms did the real work in a steaming hot kitchen, laboring for hours over the course of two days. The meat didn't come from a pre-packaged pork roast. It fell from the head of a hog cooked for hours by these women. The masa was prepared perfectly, the husks soaked to malleable softness - and then the assembly began, only to be returned to the steam bath for a few more hours until the desired end result appeared. I only got peeks into the kitchen. The teens, at least those of us not initiated into the rites of the cooking process, simply stacked and sorted the tinfoil wrapped dozens for delivery. We had the easy job, especially since the homemade delicacies practically sold themselves.
Today, I remember the sense of community evident in the endeavor. Every bite of one of those tamales exuded the care put into their making. They nourished the body, but they also nourished the soul. My dreams call me to create for myself and those around me the kind of community required to make tamales. I have settled for the cheap, easy, drive-through convenience of the Taco Bell available on every corner - barely edible at worst and even at its very best common and commercial. Nothing there nourishes my soul.
I long for a community which encourages creativity. I want connection that recognizes strength and ability and encourages growth while affirming the intrinsic worth and equality of every person. I need a place where vulnerability draws us closer together instead of making us retreat in fear. A place that honors dreams and digs deep into the hard questions. A group that believes in ritual and magic. People who see the divine in every person. Those who remember and reconstruct spirituality in ways long forgotten.
I would love to be able to order these things off a Taco Bell drive-through menu. To take the cheap and easy way out. But the remembrance of those women and their labor of love for the tamales says otherwise. My memories prompt me to recognize that community that produces true nourishment comes at a price. Work, hard hot work in the kitchen where cauldrons steam seems the only way. I am going to have to get my hands dirty. I am going to have to invest time and energy. I'm going to have to stop looking for the easy way out if I want the results to be more than fast-food.
My dreams call me to be brave enough to gather the ingredients and the hands and see what nourishment our labor of love can create. Maybe if we are lucky, the end result will be even more filling than those Christmas tamales.