How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Tamales: Tales, tips, and a recipe

Photo by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Patricia Zarate, manager of Homegirl Café, readies a batch of tamales. December 2010

The Latino culture site Remezcla tweeted this today:

Food of the Year: Tamales http://ht.ly/3toSm

Okay, so maybe it's a stretch. But tamales are the food of the moment, at least in much of Los Angeles, where people are in different stages of making them, ordering them, eating way too many of them, and swearing they won't eat another one again for a whole year.

I personally haven't reached that point yet, but the day will come.

For those who have yet to hit the masa wall, here are a couple of tamal tales for a rainy day, plus some tips and a recipe thrown in for good measure.

My KPCC colleague Adolfo Guzman-Lopez recently visited downtown L.A.'s Homegirl Café to report on the Homeboy Industries offshoot's intensified holiday tamal production. A quote from the cafe manager:

"The shift is beginning right now and we’ll be here at least 8 hours, from 8 to 10 hours, just to supply tomorrow’s orders. Because of the holidays we have plenty of orders. We will be making about 4 to 500 tamales tonight," she said.

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Mapping the nation by race, income and more

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The U.S. Census Bureau has yet to release specific data on race and ethnicity for the 2010 census, the initial results of which were released yesterday. But in the meantime, a new interactive mapping project put together by the New York Times helps make fascinating sense of who lives where.

Called "Mapping America: Every City, Every Block," the recently released maps do just that, using 2005-2009 data compiled from the census' American Community Survey. There are maps for race and ethnicity, income, housing and families, and education.

The scale of the project is impressive, in part because it drills down the nation's population makeup literally to street level. Punch South Los Angeles' 90001 ZIP code into the search tool and a map of starkly contrasting dots representing the area's tense mix of Latino (yellow dots) and African American (blue dots) residents comes into view, with each dot representing 25 people. Enter the same ZIP code into the income map, and you get a sobering sense of how many households there survive on less than $30,000 a year.

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For Los Angeles, a 'multiplicity of corridos'

Art by Gajin Fujita, courtesy of LACMA

I didn't have a chance to make it to a performance Saturday afternoon by Ozomatli at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the band performed the top entries in a contest seeking the "The Corrido of L.A." But the lyrics to several of the corrido entries are posted on LACMA's website (under "submissions"), and they're worth perusing.

The contest, a joint project between LACMA and the University of Southern California, was held in honor of the centennial of the Mexican revolution. Students in grades 7 to 12 from throughout the city were asked to submit songs written in the traditional Mexican narrative ballad style, in any language, that best captured the essence of Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, many of the corridos submitted dealt with immigration, itself a central theme of Los Angeles. One 11th-grader from Boyle Heights' Roosevelt High School wrote a song about last summer's tragic massacre of Central and South American migrants in the northern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. Several others wrote about the experience of undocumented immigrants. More than one entry among the top ten dealt with "el sueño Americano," the American dream.

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The L.A. Corridos are here at last

Since late September, Los Angeles students in grades 7 through 12 have been composing corridos - some traditional, some not - as part of a contest seeking “The Corrido of L.A.," a song written in the traditional Mexican narrative ballad style that best captures the essence of the city. The contest was a joint project between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the University of Southern California, held to commemorate the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.

The entries are in, and celebrity judges Ozomatli are scheduled to perform the winning songs at LACMA tomorrow. A story on the contest yesterday by KPCC's Alex Cohen featured two videos, including the above entry titled "Dreaming of a City" by 8th-grader Lyla Matar.

She also interviewed Ozomatli's bassist Wil-dog Abers along with Josh Kun, director of The Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg's The Norman Lear Center. Ozomatli will be performing "The Corrido of LA" in a free concert from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday in LACMA's Bing Theater.

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