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A tale of unwritten Mexican-American history told on the Mississippi Delta Tamale Trail

By Jacqueline Armijo


EL PASO — Fresh steaming tamales are sold out of small shacks, directly from vans, and by “tamale ladies” from their homes all along the “Tamale Trail” on the good old Mississippi Delta.

“There is a tradition among some African-Americans in Mississippi, Louisiana, little dots on a map going all the way up to Chicago. They make tamales and make up this trail,” said Dr. Roberto Avant-Mier Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), sitting in his office next to a poster of his book, Rock the Nation: Latin/o Identities and the Latin Rock Diaspora, which demonstrates how Latino music influenced early jazz music.

Avant-Mier recently discovered the Tamale Trail on a website where Amy Evans Streeter, oral historian at the University of Mississippi Southern Foodways Alliance, published the discussions of the Tamale Trail. She interviewed over a dozen U.S. southerners, including African-Americans, along the Mississippi delta and recorded stories about their tamale tradition.

He said it sparked his curiosity about how it came about that African-Americans in the South are making and selling tamales, a food typical of the Mexican and Latin American cuisine.

Dr. Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Jr., the director of African-American studies at UTEP, invited Avant-Mier to speak during the lecture series for African American history month.

This encouraged him to fully enhance his research paper during the fall in preparation for a presentation February 11 to students, faculty and visitors. “I was like I should really develop that tamale paper… So I wrote constantly November through January trying to get it done,” he said, noting that he is considering writing and publishing an article based on his research.

“Why and how do African Americans have tamales? The reason they’re doing it at the University of Mississippi is because they’re doing a history of food of the South, but I was interested in how African Americans having tamales is even possible,” Avant-Mier said.

Dr. Manuel Ramirez, a professor of Mexican-American history, History of the U.S.-Mexico Border and Chicano Studies at UTEP, remembers trying to convince El Pasoans that tamales are prevalent in the African American South after returning from his Ph.D. studies at the University of Mississippi…

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