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Thanksgiving Means Thousands of Tamales for One Mexican-American Family in Austin

In Austin, one Mexican-American family has been celebrating Thanksgiving with a traditional feast for decades. The Jaimes family doesn’t make turkey or stuffing or even pumpkin pie, however. They celebrate with hundreds of tamales from scratch, all for their employees.

Each year, the tradition starts off with Beatriz Jaimes going grocery shopping at some key spots in Austin. First she stops at El Milagro, a national tortilla maker with a store in the capital city.

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Credit Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
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A shredded pork tamal.

There, Jaimes buys the powdered corn to make masa, or the dough that’ll be filled with meat or other ingredients and then wrapped in a corn husk to make a single tamal.

It’s a serious process, but every year Jaimes makes more than 1,000 tamales from scratch for people she calls family -- employees of a construction company she created with her husband back in 1984. When they started out, they had only 3 employees ,but now they have about 45.

Jaimes also makes an essential stop at Fiesta Mart. There, she always stops at the pile of tomatillos, or small, green tomatoes. She peels open the fruit’s papery shell to find ones that aren’t bruised.

She also likes to get other vital ingredients there, including corn husks, garlic, pork, chicken breasts and lard.

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Credit Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
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Then she can go back to a makeshift kitchen at the construction company to start cooking.

As she begins to make the hundreds of tamales, she has more time to talk about why this holiday means so much to her.

“I think we got blessings from God,” says Jaimes, who fights back tears remembering how tough things were for them at first. “It was really, really sad, our lives. We were very, very poor when my kids were so little. Our situation was really bad with no money in the United States.”

Jaimes says they didn’t know anyone in the U.S. when they first got here, but today they have lots of people around. Even while she made the tamales employees stopped by to say hello after work. They easily make her laugh.

When Rolando Jaimes, Beatriz’s husband came by, he said he agrees that their employees are like family. That’s why they enjoy keeping the tamales tradition for them.

“There’s people working here that have been working for us for 25-27 years,” he says. “So there’s a lot of people they’ve been here pretty much since they were teenagers, and they’re in their late 40s and they’re still working for us. We’ve been pretty successful thanks to them, to their efforts, and we appreciate that.”

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Credit Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
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Beatriz Jaimes makes chicken, left, and pork tamal filling.

Though Thanksgiving is an American holiday, the couple says there’s plenty of Mexico within this, too. Rolando Jaimes says he mixes Nochebuena, or Christmas eve, traditions into it.

“I kind of mix those things together. In Mexico…there’s gotta be tamales,” he says. “This is like the seal. I’ve been [in the U.S.] 36 years of my life, so I’m kind of in between both of these countries, between both of these cultures.”

And the Jaimes couple says they will continue to blend these traditions for the whole, extended family, for as long as they’re able to.