Nicholas Kram Mendelsohn, TamalFest

This semester I volunteered with several groups throughout the Washington D.C. metro area, and was exposed to a variety of different NGO-related volunteer opportunities.  From collection-drives to staffing community culture fairs, my experience working with different organizations through the Community-Service Learning Program truly expanded my understanding of D.C. and its diversity.

My day spent working with Hola Cultura, a non-profit organization dedicated to “offering tribute to Latino culture” at their second annual TamalFest was probably my most enjoyable and memorable experience.  TamalFest, an all-day event held at Bell Multicultural Elementary School in Columbia Heights, is arranged by Hola Cultura in order to highlight local cooks specializing in Latin American cuisine, as well as provide a community event that forms a “bridge between those interested in cultural events and its producers.”

I arrived to TamalFest at 9am on a Sunday, and immediately got to work with a few other local volunteers arranging tables in the cafeteria of Bell Multicultural Elementary School for the cooks to offer their tamales and other cuisine.  Following this, we helped local Latin American-style folk artisans set up their stations along the hallway leading to the entrance to the Cafeteria.  These artisan stations were an additional part of TamalFest, designed to highlight additional aspects of Latin American culture and provide a space for local artists to sell their wares.  After working for several hours arranging tables, hanging decorations, helping cooks and artists set up their stations, and filling balloons, the doors finally opened to the public, and the smell of cooking Tamale quickly filled the cafeteria.

Several hours later, the visitors to TamalFest voted on their favorite tamale’s from the event, and the TamalFest People’s Choice Awards were given out.  The People’s Choice Award is meant to include the community directly in the event by having them vote, while also providing an award that can be displayed in the cook’s restaurants.  Following this, myself and the other TamalFest volunteers and staff broke down the event, and worked with school staff to return everything to its proper place.

I loved taking part in this event because it allowed me to gain exposure to a part of the D.C. community that I previously had not had much experience with, and also because it allowed me to support a community organization in its work raising up Latino voices and the arts.  I loved getting to work with so many different people at TamalFest, and especially enjoyed the delicious cuisine that I got to snack on after the event ended.  If you are interested in this year’s TamalFest winners, please check out these two videos!


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