Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tamales: The American Dream

Today, I had a long conversation with a lady who use to sell us tamales.
They were the best freakin tamales I have ever put in my mouth.
They were the kind with real lard. Real lard like God intended!
She would deliver them fresh and hot. A dozen tamales would be wrapped in foil, then packed in a brown paper bag. The melting lard would seep through the foil and stain the paper bag. This was a sign that you were about to experience something amazing!

Mrs. H doesn't come around selling tamales anymore so when I saw her today, I suddenly found my mouth watering and I looked at her so expectantly that she automatically said, "I no make tamales anymore."
"Well, Mrs. H, the world suffers because of it," I said sadly.

"My husband doesn't like me to sell tamales. He makes a face at me. I make GOOD money but when the bills are caught up, he doesn't want me selling them." She struggled to explain and I think I understood the gist of it.
He would do passive aggressive things like take their one and only vehicle and stay out all day so she couldn't make deliveries or sell the tamales in the local grocery store parking lot.
He didn't mind her selling them and making money when they needed it but I assume he wanted her home, making food for him when all the bills were paid.

She said at first she was embarrassed to sell tamales in the parking lot but then she thought to herself, "I'm working. I'm not on food stamps." and suddenly she wasn't embarrassed anymore.

Her oldest son is in his 30s now and he works in a bank. "I'm so proud of him. I come to this country when I was 16 and I didn't know how to read or write. But I work. Oh, I work so hard and everything I do, I do for my kids. I always put them first, you know?
Now, I can't believe I'm his mom. He wears a suit everyday and he carries one of those things..." she pantomimes a briefcase.
"He call me last week and says 'I have $1000 and I want you to have your own car. Mom, you need to live your life, not his (meaning her husband)."

I'm listening to her trying to take it all in. This was so remarkable.
"You must be so proud of him."

Her smile was so wide as she nodded. "I tell my kids, 'Whatever you put in your mind,'" she taps her forehead, "'you can do.'"
When she was 16, she came to the US on a visitor's visa of some sort. She had no intention of ever going back to Mexico. She didn't know any English but she knew how to work.
A neighbor taught her to write her own name and soon she learned how to read and write English a little.
She married when she was 20 and was pregnant almost immediately. She knew she would be able to become a legal citizen when her son was born so she got a lawyer and he got to work.
Four years later, she had her papers and she was very happy.
She said, "I wait and send more papers and wait again."
"But then, I took my son and left my husband," she searched for the right words, "There were girls girls always the girls." I understood that.
"I didn't like that, so we left. Then I met my husband and we have two kids. But I suffer." She put her hand over her heart to demonstrate how she must suffer.
"I wanted my kids to have Mom and Dad at home. I wanted them to go to school because I never go to school and I struggle. Now, my boys have GOOD jobs and Rosa is 18."
"My boy says "Mama, you always live his life. You need to get out.' Maybe it's time," she says to me and shrugs.

"Maybe I do leave and then I sell my tamales."

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