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One hospitable night

November 28, 2003

Suzie Harrison

Since 1952, the crowds have come together to enjoy a show of

hospitality presented by the Chamber of Commerce. On the first Friday

of December, Forest Avenue is closed to traffic and open to visitors

from all over.

The crowd begins to gather at about 5 p.m. and begins to dwindle a

bit after 8 p.m. In between, people are entertained and lured into

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shops with light snacks and warm welcomes.

As visitors stroll through Downtown, they are treated to

performances from the California Choreographers Dance Festival and

can catch a glimpse of Santa riding by as he heads to his hut to

greet the children.

One of the biggest hits of the event for the past five years has

been La Playa's tamale booth. La Playa is an organization designed to

help Spanish-speaking adults learn English. Every year, the group's

students make fresh, authentic tamales for Hospitality Night. A line

will begin to form when they go on sale at 5 p.m. at Laguna

Presbyterian Church's Tankersley Hall.

Not only are they considered a hot commodity for their tastiness,

the tamales help raise funds for the organization established by the

South County Crosscultural Council.

"Essentially, La Playa provides a stimulating center for Hispanic

mothers and sometimes fathers to learn English while their infant and

preschool children are cared for in a cross-cultural environment,"

volunteer teacher Lorna Cohen said.

"La Playa enriches our community through promoting mutual

understanding, cultural awareness and the simple feeling of

neighborliness -- which results when we learn to speak the same

language and get to know each other as families."

Since its start in 1996, it has had day care for preschool

children in addition to the English instruction four mornings a week.

There are several class levels, and they have served about 300

students since the school opened. Director Sally Rapuano is the only

paid staff member; 12 volunteers help teach the 25 to 30 students.

Student Carmen Aguilar is part of the tamale-making team.

"Five years we have been making the tamales to buy books, to keep

and share the Mexican tradition and share the tradition of making

tamales," Aguilar said.

She said that last year, they made 1,000.

"Two years ago, a woman told me she was angry, she had been

waiting in the line, and there were no more tamales," Aguilar said.

"People want more and more."

Lorna Cohen, who is a teacher at La Playa, instigated the tamale

sale in 1995 as a way to raise money for textbooks.

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