San Francisco's beloved 'Tamale Lady' honored with her own day

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On street corners in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood, food vendors are serving up delicious cheap eats— some using family recipes handed down from generation to generation, to satisfy our stomachs. 

But one woman, in particular, did more than just provide nourishment, she warmed the hearts of her customers.

Hailed a San Francisco legend, the late Virginia Ramos, known as Tamale Lady, will soon have a day dedicated in her honor. 

Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced on Tuesday that she introduced a resolution to declare June 23 as "Tamale Lady Day."

Ramos used to hit the streets of San Francisco, rolling her cart full of sweet potato and black bean tamales, and local favorite, chili and cheese. 

Her oldest daughter Maricela Herrera said she put her own spin on the traditional dish and fused the recipe inherited from her grandmother with alternative ingredients.

"There was no lard, no MSG," Herrera said. "She used more natural ingredients." 

Ramos would stake out at bars in the Mission like Zeitgeist, Lucky 13, and Shotwell's, passing out her homemade tamales to intoxicated patrons, while dishing out love, advice and life lessons on the side. 

"If you were standing in the corner at a bar by yourself, she would go up and talk to you," she recalled. "She made it a point to let you know she sees you and you're not alone." 

Herrera believes her mother's warm heart spawned from a place of loneliness. 

Ramos wasn't raised by her mother, but her grandmother. 

She endured years of physical abuse at the hands of her children's father. 

"She was never given a voice, never acknowledged," Herrera says. 

Fearing for her life, Ramos fled to the U.S. in hopes of a way out. 

"She was trying to escape my father," Herrera explained. "Everywhere she would go he would follow her. So she had no choice." 

She eventually settled in San Francisco, and as most mothers are inclined to do, she hustled to provide for her seven children. 

And her hustle paid off. She was able to put one of her daughter's through college selling tamales, Herrera says. 

And along the way, she adopted an entire community that would rally behind in some of her toughest battles. 

In 2013, Ramos was banned by the San Francisco Department of Public Health from selling her tamales at bars. 

Former Mission District Supervisor David Campos intervened and launched a crowdfunding campaign to help get her business back. 

Ramos was getting ready to open her own brick-and-mortar restaurant on 16th street when she passed away in September 2018.