Tamales and team-building: LA County Legion Family celebrates

Christmastime means 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 from the greater Los Angeles area gathered on the first Saturday of December at Post 139 in Alhambra, Calif., for the daylong event, where the parking lot was filled with live mariachi music and the aroma of tamales.

Jere Romano, who serves as commander of the LA County Council, said the festival was designed to unite the area’s American Legion Family in a joy, and it did. “The whole point was to bring these Legion families together and have some fun and have an opportunity to raise some funds for not only the Los Angeles County Council but also for the individual posts, units and squadrons, and for the post that's hosting us.“ Twelve area posts joined the fun.

Karla Gonzalez, 19th District 2nd vice commander, said she had more than one reason to participate. “I’m here volunteering to represent not only my post, but I’m doing my grandma’s recipe,“ she explained. Her grandmother, who had recently passed away, brought the recipe from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and it’s stayed in her family ever since. Although she wouldn’t divulge all of the recipe’s secrets, she explained how the flavor is captured in a slice of potato inside the tamale. “The potato absorbs all the flavor from the meat, the seasons, and from everything ... if you can taste that potato, you can taste everything else.”

Judging the tamales was no easy feat considering the wide variety of flavors and cooking styles in the competition. Past California American Legion Department Commander Hugh Crooks served as one of the three judges for this competition and found that it's much easier judging chili than tamales, which vary greatly from one recipe to the next. “Nothing is consistent,” he said. “The colors are different, the tastes are different, and how they are made is totally different. Even the masa, the corn, can be cooked in totally different ways.”

Commander Romano said the event fulfilled the mission – both as a fun day of celebration and as a team-building experience for posts in the county that collaborated to make it a success. “This was an opportunity to bring those units together, those squadrons, those posts … to actually work together to make a difference. Not only in the community of Los Angeles County, but as a post, because they had to work together as a team.”