Hundreds Jockey For Refunds After a Massive Batch of Spoiled Tamal Masa Ruined Christmas

Lead Photo: Photo by maogg/ E+
Photo by maogg/ E+
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Across many Latino and Latin American households, Christmas isn’t complete without tamales. So you can imagine the anger and waves of sadness felt by families across Southern California when their tamales didn’t pan out. Those who purchased masa from Amapola markets across Los Angeles County quickly learned that the key component to their Christmas tamales was spoiled. After just a few bites, some ended up in the hospital. Others had the fortune of realizing that the tamales didn’t cook correctly, and therefore, they quickly altered their dinner plans.

As a fixture in the community for more than 50 years, Amapola has supplied Mexican families with masa for decades. However, all signs point to an issue with a 120,000-pound supply of raw corn. The company has since changed vendors, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We’re devastated,” Carlos Galvan Jr. – the company’s VP and CFO – told the LA Times. “We’re not entirely sure yet what occurred.”

As a result, Amapola has spent the last week of the year giving refunds to those who purchased masa or any other tamal ingredient. On Monday, people began lining up at Amapola markets in West Covina, Paramount, Compton, and Downey to get their money back. After temporarily running out of cash, the stores closed on Tuesday. But today, Amapola markets re-opened.

In the long lines, it’s not rare to see someone with a bag or pan full of tamales – perhaps to provide further proof that their tamales were ruined. However, Rosario Jácome, who threw away her receipt, isn’t confident she’ll get her money back. The tamalera purchased 220 pounds of masa and she didn’t sleep before Christmas to prepare hundreds of tamales so that she could financially support her family. “It’s very sad because I ended up very tired. I couldn’t even walk the next day,” she told Univision. As a regular Amapola customer, Jácome had no reason to believe that she’d need the receipt.

And even for those who did keep their receipts, the refund process is a potentially frustrating one. Instead of handing out money, the company is asking clients to fill out a form detailing how much money they spent. The company will then review it and decide whether to provide compensation. “We’re going to look at it on a case-by-case basis, even if they don’t have proof they bought masa that day,” according to Luis Alvarado, the company’s attorney. “We won’t immediately reimburse them, but we ask them to fill out a form while we do our investigation.”

For someone like Arturo García, this process is flawed. On Monday, he stood in line from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and didn’t get his money back. On Wednesday, he received the form and filled it out. “I work in Houston,” he said. “And I have to leave.” García was fortunate enough to spend Christmas in Pico Rivera with his mom. But now he’s disappointed that he’ll head home having spent $150 on spoiled masa.

Depending on how Amapola handles the refunds, this could either strengthen or damage its relationship with LA County’s tamal-buying public. But for some, they already know they’ll be coming back – eventually. “For Mexican culture, tamales is the main thing,” Kathy Moreno told the LA Times about Christmas. “We’ve been coming here over 25 years. It will take a while to regain trust.”