Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Like It Used To Be: La Pelada Through the Lens of Oscar Castillo

Michael Sedano 
Fotos © Oscar Castillo 

The land line rings. I don't recognize the phone number. With trucha my normal attitude toward anonymous caller IDs, I reluctantly lift the receiver, prepared to be hostile to an invader of my privacy. My ears perk up when I hear the voice. Oscar Castillo calls with an offer I didn't refuse. 

Chances are, Johnny Mathis, or anyone who has seen photographs of things quintessentially Chicano, has seen Oscar Castillo's photographs. That's Oscar with Magu and Beto de la Rocha standing in front of Oscar's historic portrait of Magu, Beto, Frank Romero, and Carlos Almaraz, Los Four.

You've seen a foto of a lowered yellow 1947 Chevy parked in front of La Mexicana Market? That's Oscar's work. The yellow chevy is one of dozens of fotos the Smithsonian sent on national tour a few years back after the museum acquired the Chicano photographer's work. Oscar Castillo has made a lasting contribution to Chicanarte through his lens and eye, so it's always cool to see Oscar show up at events porting his camera.

Today, Castillo shares 13 images from the 2008 iteration of La Pelada. Latinopia produced a video of this La Pelada, link here. Thirteen is a magic number, a prime number, the middle of our English alphabet, plus 13 plays a pivotal role in Mexica calendar time, so auspiciously, La Bloga begins the final month of 2020 with 13 great memories of casí 13 years ago. 
Raza cannot live by tacos alone, not when tamales, enchiladas, guisados, omelettes, rellenos share ingredients like rajas of roasted green chile, often from Hatch, New Mexico. Hatch is where La Pelada host Alfredo Frito Lascano traditionally sources his chiles for his annual harvest festival.

That's host Frito Lascano with Diane Hernandez, an artist in the kitchen. Diane's husband, Sergio, and two daughters, are mingling.
Lascano celebrates la cultura, el chile es cultura, through the annual chile-peeling party, whose arrival signals the beginning of holiday season. Since no Chicanx holiday season is complete without at least one tamalada, La Pelada is step one to a tamalada, since no tamal menu is complete without tamales de rajas y queso.

A 15-pound bag of chiles produces an afternoon's fun and numerous ziplock bags of skinless, seedless roasted chiles. Above, that's Magu and his son, Naiche, wisely wearing gloves to prepare their chiles. The hot hot and hot chiles require those gloves. The chiles arrives with a burlap outer wrap. Inside, a black plastic bag holds a mound of steaming roasted chile. The aromas define "atmosphere" in the best way.

Oscar sends along several fotos of Barbara and me, back in our healthy and energetic days. Like everyone else at La Pelada, we are planning tamaladas, soups, casseroles, maybe this year The Gluten-free Chicano will make an acceptable chile relleno (he failed).

The couple below, Michael and Barbara Sedano, eschew gloves. They buy the mild chile that warms the hands, offering one's mouth a slow gentle burn. Barbara really puts away those birongas! Oscar Castillo's fotos gives the wrong impression. If this image shows up in the Smithsonian I'm clearing Barbara's name right now. Frito serves quite a refreshment array, but it's mostly BYOB on the alcohol, and as I'm driving, I hold back.
I look like the one who downed all those beers, though I may be responsible for that Pacifico.
You'll see various approaches to the roasted chile, other than bag in a hurry so you can party. Basically, the variants are stem-on / stem-off. Appearance makes a secondary consideration in a stem-on peeled chile. 

Slide the black stuff off the outside of a chile. Slit open and squeeze out the seeds. Pull out the stem and membrane. Bag.

To use La Pelada chiles at their most elegant simplicity, green chile soup is fast, unique, and company-delicious.

The Gluten-free Chicano's Crema de Chile Soup
1 bag (8 stemless chiles) chiles.
½ ~ 1 cup chicken stock.
¼ cup cream or half and half or milk.
salt to taste.

In a blender, whiz the chiles to thick paste. Add chicken stock to consistency you enjoy. Transfer to a pot, stir in dairy, heat to light boil.

Casa Sedano hosted last year's La Pelada. It was to be the final La Pelada until the plague dissipates and social gatherings safely resume. Oscar sending these fotos makes it great present to La Bloga.

The social part of the gatherings means full hearts and keen memories filled with the sounds of raza laughter, the tastes of Norma's chile, or Frito's calabaza pork hominy guisado, the constant chatter of chisme, familia news, catching up, introductions of new people ready to be friends. La Pelada is familia and it's cultura and it's comida. Do check out that Latinopia video. Magu's technique is peel, clean and pack stemmed. He'll bag later. Others don't bother to peel the charred outer skin but package the chiles whole. I've done both. When defrosted, the chile readily peels clean, and not peeling at La Pelada frees you to go have fun.

For this La Pelada, Conjunto Los Pochos entertain with their infectious mix of good time musica. Raza dance when the music drives the feet. ¡Ajua!
Otoño Lujan's button acordeón wows the crowd.
Iron-cutter Michael Amezcua and painter Leo Limón surround a friend for Oscar's lens.
Enrique Ramirez of Los Peludos serenades.
Painter cartoonist Sergio Hernandez with two daughters. La Pelada is familia time, some joining as infants and attending year after year developing their own rituals like the adults with their renewals of conversations from year to year. Orale, last time I saw you...at last year's pelada...did you ever...?
Let the holiday season begin! Socially distant tamaladas challenge the imagination how that's possible. No super spreader events, gente. Maybe we make tamales next year, when we can do La Pelada again.

1 comment:

Eddie Alfaro said...

Looks like a very nice party! Made me very hungry looking at the photos.