Today was one of those great random-type days. My wife had told me about the Riverside Tamale Festival earlier this year and we promptly forgot about it. This morning she noticed a reminder on her phone about the event. After a late breakfast, we drove out to Riverside and walked into the festivities at noon.
The festival was held at White Park and there was a terrific, low-key vibe throughout the area. There were a lot of families, all chowing down on tamales. I thought there might be more fusion/experimental tamales, but most were traditional (pork, chicken, chile and cheese, beef, along with some pineapple and strawberry dessert tamales). We were too full to try the cajun fusion tamale, but we loved the vegan sweet corn and poblano from Gourmet Tamales. Pictured above is the chipotle pork BBQ tamale from Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, which lived up to its award-winning hype. The sweet masa in this tamale paired well with the pork.
We hung out for a few hours, enjoying the mariachi performances and all of our munchies. Since one can only do so many tamales on a warm day, we were grateful for the vendors offering pepinos (cucumbers served with chile and lemon) and raspados (snow cones with various ingredients; we shared a delicious coconut and tamarind mixture).
Afterwards, in keeping with today’s randomness theme, we stumbled upon the wonderful Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties. Located next to White Park, the center is a resource for education about civil rights and social liberty in the mid to late 20th century. In a nice bit of kismet, the center is also the home of the Mine Okubo collection: Okubo was the writer and illustrator of Citizen 13660, one of my favorite books from my college days. I had no idea she was a Riverside native and the entire second floor of the center was dedicated to her artwork, which was bequeathed to Riverside City College after her death in 2001.
As we explored the exhibition, I thought about the first time I’d read Citizen 13660. My memory is a little fuzzy now, but I think it was for an Asian American history class. What I do remember, though, is how cool I thought it was that a graphic novel was being used in a college course.
I kept my copy for many years until recently, when I gave it to my stepdaughter. I hope it moves her like it did me; it’s a remarkable work and a classic of Asian-American literature.