How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More gratuitous lunchtime tamales

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Cuban-style tamales on Noche Buena, December 24, 2010

The holidays aren't over yet, right?

I'm close to hitting the wall, but not until I finish the leftover Cuban-style tamales that graced my parents' Noche Buena table the other night. These are sweet corn tamales with pork, mushy and slightly crumbly and very good, though not easy to make (to do it right, one has to grind the corn).

I usually make Mexican-style tamales, which can be whipped up from dry masa mix and still taste spectacular. But this year my mother sought out the work of a professional, i.e. a woman in Bell who makes Cuban tamales and sells them underground via one of the local carnicerias. So to the unnamed tamal lady, mil gracias. They were delicious. I only wish I'd had more room for them amid the lechón, yuca, black beans and rice.

For anyone who is feeling ambitious and has yet to completely burn out on tamales, here are a couple of Cuban tamal recipes. One calls for either fresh corn or frozen kernels and requires a food processor, unless grinding corn by hand is your thing. Another employs a shortcut mix of canned creamed corn and cornmeal. The latter trick is something my late grandfather adopted after grinding corn became too much of a chore, and the results weren't bad. Some people have been known to add a little boniato (sweet potato) to sweeten the masa, but the corn should do.


Dissecting culture's role in decision-making

Photo by Anthony Albright/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Choosing among the dozens of brands in the bread, peanut butter and jam aisle, February 2010

On the heels of weeks of Christmas shopping in stores filled with far too many perplexing choices, New American Media published a great Q&A this weekend with Columbia University business professor Sheena Iyengar, author of the book "The Art of Choosing."

Iyengar, who was raised as a Sikh, spoke with Sandip Roy on the program New America Now. She discussed how one's cultural background plays a bigger than expected role in the way decisions are made. An excerpt from the interview:

It’s not just about how choice is regarded from culture to culture—does culture affect what we regard as choice in the first place?

Absolutely. I give you a set of 10 sodas. Do you see that as one choice or 10 choices? That varies tremendously as a function of your culture. Asians wouldn’t see that as a choice, because they are wondering what is the host expecting me to choose. Americans see that as 10 choices. Members of ex-communist countries see that as one choice: soda. They see the differences between the brands as utterly meaningless.


In the news this morning: A town that Latinos are leaving, big political shift expected on immigration, the value of Kwanzaa and more

Citing police abuse, Hispanics leaving Conn. town - The Associated Press Racial profiling allegations began about two years ago in East Haven, a predominantly Italian-American suburb 70 miles northeast of New York City. Said one Puerto Rican resident: "We can't tolerate the town anymore."

Immigration overhaul: President Obama's push for reform appears dead - Los Angeles Times With GOP leadership in the House, a return to enforcement-based and border related security measures is predicted.

In Congress, a harder line on illegal immigrants - The Washington Post From the Associated Press story: "In a matter of weeks, Congress will go from trying to help young, illegal immigrants become legal to debating whether children born to parents who are in the country illegally should continue to enjoy automatic U.S. citizenship."


American snapshot: Christmas in Alhambra

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

One of a series of well-decorated front lawns on an Alhambra street, December 23, 2010

Santa flies the Stars and Stripes outside a Latino household in the San Gabriel Valley majority minority city, whose population is about half Asian and a third Latino. Alhambra recently became home to a multilingual community news website in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and ????? (and please, Mandarin speakers, correct me if that means something totally different). Happy holidays to all.


In the news, this afternoon: Immigration reform prospects dim, another migrant kidnapping, more

In new Congress, detours ahead for immigration bills - USA Today From Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which advocates for restricted immigration: "Nothing is going to happen. The House will kill everything."

Mexico announces investigation of kidnapping of 50 Central American migrants - Los Angeles Times A day after declaring that such an incident did not take place, Mexican officials now say they are investigating the reported mass kidnapping of Central American migrants in Chiapas.

2012 hopefuls to skip Hispanic forum - Politico Concerns are raised over most GOP presidential hopefuls so far declining to attend a Latino leadership forum in Miami next month, given the party's presently strained relationship with Latino voters.

Deportation request dropped for man in NYC probe - The Washington Post Immigration officials have dropped a deportation case against Mohammad Shafiq Rahman, one of three Pakistani men detained in connection with the botched Times Square car bombing. The man who admitted to rigging the bomb has been sentenced to life in prison.