Tamale Fest shines light on Latino culture

Tamale Fest serves as an important fundraiser for Centro Cultural, a Binghampton-based nonprofit organization founded in 2011 with the mission of promoting arts and culture of the city’s Latino communities
Memphis loves food. Memphis also loves festivals.
 
So the second Centro Cultural Tamale Fest at Caritas Village in Binghampton on Sept. 24 will be a celebration of a couple of the community’s favorite things.
 
But while the free festival brings Memphians together to enjoy a variety of tamales, it’s also a time to celebrate Latino arts and culture. And that’s at the heart of Centro Cultural, an organization founded in 2011 whose mission is to “celebrate, teach promote and disseminate Latino culture and diversity through creativity in all expressions of art: literary, performing arts, music and visual.”
 
The nonprofit organization does that through weekly classes that range from painting to karate. It also holds regular meetings, and a few times a year features Latino art exhibits at Caritas Village, its home in Binghampton.
 
But the biggest event is in its second year and is on its way to becoming an important annual fundraiser for the organization. The Sept. 24 Tamale Fest will begin at 2 p.m. and last until 6 p.m. Featuring a variety of art and entertainment, not to mention plenty of tamales for sale, it’s a celebration of the Latino culture that is growing in Memphis.
 
Margarita Sandino is director of education at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. She’s also co-chair of Centro Cultural, which gives her an opportunity to use her love of art for a greater educational purpose.
 
“We’re inviting everybody; that’s why we have all types of tamales,” she said of the festival. “If you think about it every country has a tamal with something corn that’s wrapped. Even Americans. We have corn dogs. Everybody has a connection to tamal, the ingredients and the love and the process put in to make it. And it’s in our mission to encourage people to learn about our cultures.”
 
Yes, more than one culture. Centro Cultural focuses on sharing and teaching the arts of Latino cultures in Memphis, and that includes a range of nationalities.
 
Sandino came to Memphis from Colombia in 2002. She said much has changed in Memphis over that time in regards to the Latino community.
 
“When I came I was exotic,” she said. “Not anymore. (The Latino population) is huge. … Latinos are hard-working people with a strong belief in learning and in family. They love art, anything that is artistic or music. Our culture is rich with that.”
 
Centro Cultural and its Tamale Fest have a couple of missions. One is to promote the rich culture of various Latino cultures for the educational benefit of younger generations. But as nearly 7 percent of the city’s population is listed as Latino, it only adds to the diversity of the community.
 
“We feel community building and relationship building is key,” said Kristin Fox-Trautman, a board member of Centro Cultural. “We’ll have people interact with people they haven’t interacted with before and learn about another culture.”
 
Of course there isn’t just one Latino culture. Many Latino countries have their own countless cultures. Sandino said Colombia alone has 52 states, each with their own identity. Add 80 indigenous communities, and that’s countless cultures just for one country.
 
“But as diverse as we are we all feel connected through language and traditions and art,” she said. “We love to learn about each other’s cultures and the arts is the best way to learn.”
 
Fox-Trautman has spent 20 years in the nonprofit community in Memphis working in youth development and education. As a white woman, she calls herself an ally of the Latino community. But more than that, she said she has a great love for the rich Latino culture and the people she’s met through the years in Central America and Mexico.
 
As part of the group that decided to add Tamale Fest to Centro Cultural’s programming, she said the organization’s core mission is to promote cultural arts for the entire community. But there also is a recognition that it’s important to keep former cultures alive, even while adapting to ones in a new home.
 
“It’s an effort for Latino parents and adults to pass on Latino culture to their children, recognizing that there is a great deal of assimilating that is required when people come to a new place,” she said. “This is celebrating the culture.”
 
Centro Cultural’s art programs are bilingual. Classes are held Saturdays and include Latinos who both live in and outside of Binghampton, but also has a wide ethnic makeup that includes African immigrants in the neighborhood.
 
“We’re lucky that we’re at Caritas,” Sandino said. “It’s such a diverse neighborhood. That neighborhood has a large African population and they come to our classes. That’s the idea. We’re one big family. They’re making art and teaching each other. They might say in our country we do this but it’s called that. We find connections.”
 
The Tamale Fest helps sustain and grow that education mission by providing needed funds for art supplies and programming. The organization is completely volunteer-run and all the programming is free for participants.
 
About 2,000 people attended the inaugural 2015 festival. There will be even more tamale vendors at the 2016 event to accommodate all the visitors, not to mention a collection of food trucks.
 
The festival runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. outside of Caritas Village at the corner of Merton Street and Harvard Avenue in the Binghampton neighborhood. Entertainment begins at 2 with 901 Breakers followed by Banda La Conquistadora at 2:20, Tierra Mestiza at 2:40, Louise Page at 3, Tierra Mestiza at 3:25, Memphoenix at 3:45, Casateatro at 4:15, Accidental Fieldtrip at 4:45 and Ritmoson at 5:15.
 
Parking is available on the street and at neighborhood schools. Merton and Harvard near Caritas Village will be closed for the festival.
 
For more information, go to http://centrocultural.us/.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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