"She helps everyone": This Mexican woman's kitchen is legendary worldwide

Border business: The rest stop

The story of Concepción González Ramírez, in the video player above, is part of the new CBSN Originals documentary, "Border Business: Inside Immigration." Watch the full documentary at the bottom of this page.


At a border town about 4 miles from Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, migrants come by the thousands seeking food, shelter and rest before the next leg of their journey north to the U.S. One proprietor has developed such a storied reputation for hospitality that she's known by many names as far away as Ghana and Bangladesh.

Concepción González Ramírez runs a kitchen and hostel in the center of Tapachula, Mexico, where greetings in different languages line the walls. "Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Haiti, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Eretria, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, all of them come here," she said. "The Cubans call me Madrina (Godmother) or Tia (Aunt). Africans call me Mama Africa."

The journey to America is not cheap, so one of the draws to her establishment are the prices. A meal of generous portions is only 40 pesos, or about $2. "This is an 'economic kitchen,' an affordable place. Nothing more than a place where we prepare food from all countries," she said. "They saw the food, and the way I care for them, as if they were in their home. And they trust me as if I were their own mother."

She hires some of her customers to work in the kitchen so they can earn money for the remainder of their journey. One young Cuban migrant, who wouldn't give her name, was chopping vegetables when we visited. She expected to leave town the following week to head to the U.S. border.

"She is a very good woman, very strong, very caring, and she cares a lot about the people and the emigrants, and she helps everyone," the woman said of Ramírez.

migrants.jpg
Concepción González Ramírez runs a kitchen and hostel catering to migrants from around the world in Tapachula, Mexico.  CBS News

Sometimes she'll take her guests to see the doctor if they have a high fever or arrive in poor health from the journey. When her hostel is fully booked, she helps travelers find other accommodations nearby. A group of Eritrean men recently approached and found her place was full, but "Mama Africa" ran out of the kitchen to direct them down the street. "Check the hotel. I gave my name," she tells them.

Her connection to her guests doesn't always end when they leave town. Ramírez says some have written to her daughter on WhatsApp or through Facebook, since she doesn't use the apps herself. 

"They say, 'Tell your mom may God bless her, that we are good, that we are working'," she said. "I feel as if they were my family. I have learned to love them."

Border business: Inside immigration