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Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

TUCSON, Arizona — The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has been hosting the Tucson Tamal and Heritage Festival at Casino Del Sol’s AVA amphitheater for 16 years.

The community celebration of food and culture happens on the first Saturday of December.

It’s a rich celebration of identity for many Yaquis, a tribe that the southern border crossed.

“I've been in all parts of the country, and the Southwest, people would say, ‘Well, you're not Native American.’ And I said, well in some parts, maybe not. We're Yaqui, that's all we've ever said. We're Yaqui, we’re Yoeme people,” Chairman Peter Yucupicio said.

Yaquis are Indigenous to the Sonoran Desert. Many communities can be found between the ocho pueblos along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico all the way up to Scottsdale, Arizona and beyond.

The Latina dance group Ballet Folklorico Tapatio poses at the Tucson Tamal and Heritage Festival at the Casino Del Sol AVA Amphitheater on December 4, 2021. The group performed a traditional Mexican folk dance at the celebration of food and culture. (Photo by Carina Dominguez)

Yoeme, Mexican and American cultures are all on full display at the event.

Families and organizations raise money selling tamales and have an opportunity to join the cash-prize contest where judges choose the best tamales.

There’s ongoing entertainment throughout the day from the time the event starts at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It even brings families together before the event when they’re preparing tamales.

Half eaten red chile tamal at the Casino Del Sol Resort. (Photo by Carina Dominguez)

“It brings the whole family, the kids, the nephews, everybody together, but here in Southern Arizona it brings all the community together,” Yucupicio said.

Tamales are made with a corn masa, or dough, that’s spread across a softened corn husk, stuffed with a filling of choice, then wrapped and steamed.

Casino Del Sol Banquet Chef Mario Carmelo demonstrates the tamal making process. (Photo by Carina Dominguez)

Casino Del Sol Banquet Chef Mario Carmelo demonstrated that process. He says he’s been making tamales since he was a kid, it’s been over 50 years.

The Tucson Tamal and Heritage Festival has expanded to include more foods and vendors but tamales continue to be the main staple of the event. 

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