On Wednesday morning mourners gathered the funeral of Virginia Ramos, known citywide as “The Tamale Lady,” who died in late September at age 65. Family and friends spoke during a traditional Hispanic Catholic funeral held at Mission Dolores Basilica Church, before taking the casket containing Ramos’s body to be buried. The somber event was filled mostly with family, though a few friends and longtime customers showed up to pay their respects.
Among them was Samer Danfoura, who described himself to SF Weekly as Ramos’s friend first, and her lawyer second.
“Virginia’s tamales carried ancestral healing powers,” Danfoura said during a moving eulogy for Ramos. “Like tamales, that provided nourishment for people on long journeys and from distant lands, Virginia traveled the streets of San Francisco late at night helping to ensure that people got home safely, and to ensure that they would have good food ready to eat the next day. Like tamales that come in a variety of doughs and fillings, Virginia’s heart was open to all people, regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation or religion. All you had to do was walk around with her to learn how many people were touched by her open-hearted and giant spirit.”
Rev. Francis Mark P. Garbo, who led the funeral ceremony, compared Ramos’s open heart to that of Jesus Christ. “She did not only sell tamales, but she also took care of other people,” he said, calling attention to her favorite phrase to customers: “I don’t know you, but I love you.”
“It is more than a tamale, but the spirit in her heart. God guided her,” he said.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Ramos learned the complicated, time-consuming art of making tamales from her grandmother. When she moved to the United States in the 1980s she launched a small cleaning business, and cooked tamales at home in her kitchen on the side to better support her seven children. Towing a large red or blue cooler around the bars at night, she quickly developed a strong following and made friends as she went. Ramos frequented Lower Haight, providing food, hugs, and advice for revelers at Toronado, Lucky 13, Noc Noc, and Molotov.
Danfoura had been helping Ramos secure the permits to open her own tamale shop in the Mission, after concern from the Health Department and a subsequent ban from Zeitgeist in 2013 put her home-grown business at risk. Her brick and mortar restaurant was set to open earlier this year but was held back by structural and logistical delays. Former-Supervisor David Campos, who assisted with Ramos’s efforts to formally launch her own business, sat quietly and alone during Wednesday’s ceremony at Mission Dolores. It’s not yet clear if her family will continue the process of opening the shop.
A public memorial for Ramos is currently being organized in collaboration with Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office, and will most likely take place in Clarion Alley. Stay tuned for updates.