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Turning out for tamales: Hungry fans scarf down 65,000 at popular Kennewick festival

Kennewick – Sonia Alamilla brought seven family members, three pots, two grills and nearly 3,000 tamales to the Benton County Fairgrounds.

And it still may not have been enough for the more than 5,500 people who showed up at the fourth annual Tamale Festival on Sunday.

“He told me I should have made more,” she said, referring to organizer and family friend David Cortinas. “But that’s all my little hands were able to do.”

Alamilla, like the other 15 vendors, started preparing for the festival a week ago. She prepared the fillings and dough, which is spread across the corn husk wrapping, and then started assembling.

“What I like about tamales is it represents the Mexican culture,” she said. “It brings family together. It’s something that you can’t do by yourself. It involves family.”

Food preparation is a family business for the Walla Walla native. Her parents have run a taco truck for more than 30 years, and she operates El Taco Loco catering. It was through their connection with Cortinas that she ended up at the tamale festival this year.

The lines for the traditional Mesoamerican food stretched out the door starting at 11 a.m., with infants on up to seniors anticipating a tasty treat. Cortinas expected more than 65,000 tamales would be picked up.

“I think we had a couple hundred people in the first hour, and we expect it to be between 200 and 500 every hour,” he said. “Tamales are popular. Everybody loves tamales.”

People could select from about 15 different varieties, including several vegetarian and vegan options – a first for this year.

The connection to families continued past the food vendors and into the merchants who brought clothing, makeup and other crafts to the festival.

Karla M. Crayne, the owner of Princess Orchid, brought an array of girls clothing and stuffed animals to sell.

A U.S. Army veteran, she started the business in 2014 with help from her mother and aunt, who help create some of the clothing she sells, including the coats and the stuffed cats.

Part of her mission was to offer families high-quality, modest clothing for girls, and to return the tradition of women making clothing for families.

The traditional cuisine has long been a part of her household.

“Being a veteran, I get exposed to a lot of different people in a lot of different cultures,” she said. “My parents are from Honduras as well, so I like to stay in tune with the Latin community, just because I grew up speaking Spanish and eating tamales.”