Eight years ago, a woman approached Hollister resident Mickie Solorio Luna and asked for help paying for her daughter’s graduation cap and gown. To raise the funds, Luna opted to continue to do what her family has been doing for generations—making tamales.
This year her fundraising operation, based on fulfilling orders rather than going to town to sell them, resulted in 480 tamales.
“I know it’s hard for parents,” said Luna, a former Hollister City Council member. “I pay for as many as I can cover with the donations I receive from the tamales.”
Though many tamal variations exist, Luna prefers to stick to the traditional pork and the customer-favorite combination of jalapeño and cheese—all made from scratch.
For Luna, tamales have become the go-to food item, as she has used them for various fundraising events, including setting up college funds for her grandchildren.
“I feel we did our part as grandparents and now we support the community with little things that mean a lot to them,” Luna said.
One year, Luna paid for 11 students’ graduation attire, which can cost around $35 per student. She covered four students in her first year. At times, she has also helped pay for different college fees with the money she raises.
It’s no surprise Luna’s tamales are as popular as they are since it’s a recipe passed down through generations and made famous by Luna’s mother, Anita Vasquez Castillo, also known as La Reina de los Tamales (queen of tamales).
Castillo was crowned queen in a local contest in 1978, winning a trophy and $100. Castillo kept the trophy, but donated the cash prize to her church for food baskets.
“It was always giving, giving, giving,” Luna said of her mom, well-known for her cooking and her generosity, oftentimes combining both.
She recalls her mom cooking for cannery workers who’d drop off their tupperware before their shift and pick it up after work. Castillo would cook anything the workers requested.
“She said she was helping them because they worked hard and had to take care of their kids after work, so they wouldn’t have time to cook,” Luna said.
The tamal recipe was handed down to Castillo by her mother, Adeliada, who was also known for her cooking and served as the head chef of her church in San Martin de Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico.
The respect Castillo received from the community was reflected in her nickname, Doña Anita. Castillo showed her love and how she adopted all who met her by calling them mijo and mija, an endearing way of calling someone son or daughter.
Luna, who recalls helping her mom with the meticulous tamal-making process, has passed it down to her children and grandchildren. “It’s all about coming together as a family and reliving the moments,” Luna said.
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