As a Mexican who annually receives misleading Christmas gifts (PlayStation boxes stuffed with swap-meet underwear and socks), I can unequivocally deem the tamale-wrapping barrio legend a lie. But the humble masa meal is a Mexican's most valued weapon come Navidad—it's our fruitcake, a fail-safe, universal present that also functions as an edible visa. For housemaids, a basketful of tamales ensures the doña will re-bristle her broom; at the office Christmas party, the Mexican who brings luscious cactus-and-cheese tamales spares himself at least a month of whispered beaner jokes. Tamale diplomacy is so necessary for Mexicans that parents will force children—did I say children? I meant the girls—to stay up all night spreading masa over cornhusks, crushing chile seeds into salsa and glopping lard over the entire mess.
Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at email@example.com. However, the Mexican won't answer questions next week—he needs to cook tamales for the January run across the border.