Review: The First Tortilla, Bilingual Childrens Book by Rudolfo Anaya, Amy Cordova, Enrique Lamadrid

by DerdriuMarriner

Tortillas are one of Latin America’s beloved foods. Their creation belongs among Latin America’s endearing legends. The tale’s update enchants all readers of “The First Tortilla.”

Latin Americanists particularly associate the word with the cuisines in the hemisphere’s Spanish-speaking cultures of:
• Caribbean islands;
• Insular and mainland Central and South America;
• Southernmost and southwestern North America.

The term comes from the Spanish addition of the feminine singular ending –illa (“dear, little, small”) to the feminine singular noun torta (“cake”).
• But it describes the same culinary item as the earlier designation tlaxcalli (flat maize bread) from the pre-existing Nahuatl language of central Mexico’s ancient Aztec culture.
• The maize-floured bread of today still honors in its most basic form ancient recipes which combine ground corn with water to make masa (dough) for heating and serving.

Its creation myth makes for fascinating reading in “The First Tortilla.”

Tortillas are quintessential to cuisine of New Mexico, which has been influenced by southern neighbors from North America and Central and South America:

A popular recipe transforms a tortilla into a taco, a tortilla folded or rolled around a filling.
Tortillas and tacos: photo by Peggy Greb
Tortillas and tacos: photo by Peggy Greb


Stories abound regarding the creation of the world’s first tortilla. No two indigenous cultures agree on the invention or the inventor. Archaeologists nevertheless articulate a date of around 10,000 B.C. for the bread’s first known production in the southern and western hemispheres. Historians generally associate the flat maize bread’s longevity to culinary enthusiasts in such ancient Mesoamerican civilizations as:

  • The Aztec peoples of central and northern Mexico;
  • The Maya populations in Belize and Guatemala as well as in northern El Salvador, southern Mexico, and western Honduras.

But they also attribute its sustainability to Spanish-speakers north of the Mexico – U.S.A. border. New Mexico’s cuisine and culture indeed cherish the making of tortillas and the telling of their invention.


In "The First Tortilla," Mountain Spirit rewards Jade's food offering and prayers by granting access to corn stored in mountain caves by ants. ~

Guila Naquitz Cave: site of oldest known remains of maize.
Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico
Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico


Jade becomes anxious for her village’s survival. Villagers contemplate:

  • Drought-stricken lands;
  • Dying bean and squash plants;
  • Imminent starvation.

The nearby volcano does nothing to assuage the population’s growing fears. The Mountain Spirit atop the volcano’s uppermost peak encourages disquiet and dread by light and sound displays of:

  • Lava;
  • Rumblings;
  • Smoke.

Jade follows the advice of the Mountain Spirit’s messenger, a blue hummingbird. She goes up to:

  • Leave food offerings;
  • Request rain (denied by the villagers’ forgetting to give thanks for previous harvests).

The Mountain Spirit grants Jade access to the mountain ants’ cave-stored corn. Rain is allowed to fall. Jade mixes ground corn with lake water. She produces the first tortilla by placing dough on hot stones.


In "The First Tortilla," the industrious storing of corn in a cave by mountain ants provides the essential ingredient for the creation of tortillas:

Mountain ants (Hormigas)
Tepeji del Río, Hidalgo, southeastern Mexico
Tepeji del Río, Hidalgo, southeastern Mexico



The First Tortilla exists in bilingual format, with concurrent English and Spanish language versions.

  • Esteemed Emeritus Literature Professor Rudolfo Anaya furnishes the English text.
  • Artist and arts educator Amy Cordova gives artistic expression to the actions, feelings, thoughts, and words of all of the mountain- and village-dwellers.
  • Cultural historian and literature folklorist Enrique Lamadrid handles the Spanish text.

The above-mentioned illustrations and storylines merge into an accessible, attractive publication from 2012 thanks to the fine publishing commitments of the University of New Mexico Press. They provide hours of cultural enrichment, educational entertainment, and literary analysis to parents, readers, and teachers of all ages, but most especially for target audiences of:

  • Ages 9 – 13+;
  • Grades fourth through eighth.


The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story (English and Spanish Edition) by Rudolfo Anaya ~ illustrated by Amy Cordova

Rudolfo Anaya stories



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


In "The First Tortilla," Mountain Spirit provides instrumental guidance for the creation of tortillas:

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer III: bronze sculpture by Craig Dan Goseyun (born 1960)
Santa Fe, north central New Mexico
Santa Fe, north central New Mexico

Sources Consulted


Anaya, Rudolfo. 2012. The First Tortilla. Illustrated by Amy Cordova. Translated into Spanish by Enrique R. Lamadrid. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Close-up of tortillas in a tray covered by a red cloth:

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Robert Harding

North and South America: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

New Mexico, located in southwestern North America, reflects culinary influences from Mexico as well as Central and South America.
North and South America
Ad AllPosters

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 12/19/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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