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A Honduran Restaurant Hands Out Hot Comfort Food For The Migrant Caravan In Tijuana

José Aguilar heads to the store on a supply run in Tijuana, Mexico. His restaurant Honduras 504 has become a community center for Honduran legal residents and unauthorized migrants alike.
José Aguilar heads to the store on a supply run in Tijuana, Mexico. His restaurant Honduras 504 has become a community center for Honduran legal residents and unauthorized migrants alike.

When José Aguilar, a Honduran-born resident of Tijuana, Mexico, heard that a caravan of mostly Honduran migrants was headed to the border city, he knew he had to do something.

Seven years ago, Aguilar moved to Tijuana after bouncing between the United States, Mexico and Honduras for two decades. Once settled, he opened a restaurant called Honduras 504. People often call it just 504 or Catracho 504, using the informal demonym Hondurans call each other and their country code.

Through the years, the restaurant has become the unofficial heart of the Honduran community in Tijuana. "Local Hondurans come here to eat and drink; it's kind of like a little Honduras. Since there isn't a consulate, newly arrived migrants also come here asking for food and phone calls. Ever since we opened, we've always been there to help," Aguilar says.

He manages the front while his wife, Lilian Mejía, runs the kitchen with her sister, Mitxy. In this cramped space the sisters cook up staples from northern Honduras: stewed chicken with plantains, yuca con chicharrón (fried cassava and cubed pork) and the beloved baleada (a flour tortilla stuffed with red beans, avocado, cream and salty cheese).

Top: Mitxy Mejía washes up before hauling stew to the shelter. She was the last of her family to reach Tijuana after they all left the crisis-stricken Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. "It's painful to see our <em>paisanos</em> forced from their homes, but I understand why they fled," she says. Left: José Aguilar with his son Jaden. Right: Lilian Mejía, Aguilar's wife, on her way to the market.
/ Tomás Ayuso for NPR
Top: Mitxy Mejía washes up before hauling stew to the shelter. She was the last of her family to reach Tijuana after they all left the crisis-stricken Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. "It's painful to see our <em>paisanos</em> forced from their homes, but I understand why they fled," she says. Left: José Aguilar with his son Jaden. Right: Lilian Mejía, Aguilar's wife, on her way to the market.

When the caravan arrived in November, the migrants were sent to a shelter inside the Benito Juárez sports complex. The park and baseball diamond were turned into a refugee camp, a short walk from the restaurant.

After thousands of Haitians had come to Tijuana in 2016, Aguilar and Mejía knew from experience that food was the most critical need during a sudden migration crises.

Migrants wait in a line as volunteers donate food in northern Tijuana. With city resources thinly spread, citizens answered the call by offering things like winter clothing and food.
/ Tomás Ayuso for NPR
Migrants wait in a line as volunteers donate food in northern Tijuana. With city resources thinly spread, citizens answered the call by offering things like winter clothing and food.

The couple closed the restaurant and started cooking for the displaced Hondurans. Aguilar sourced the produce, Mejía folded tortilla dough and her sister stewed beans, ultimately assembling some 200 baleadas. Along with José's eldest son Cristian, they went to the shelter and handed them out. Within minutes the whole supply was gone.

With the help of his family and employees, José Aguilar delivers five containers of a hearty Honduran-style chicken stew to the caravan.
/ Tomás Ayuso for NPR
With the help of his family and employees, José Aguilar delivers five containers of a hearty Honduran-style chicken stew to the caravan.

The exhausted migrants smiled ear to ear, many of them eating Honduran cooking for the first time since they fled the country. Once the weary crowd found out it was Hondurans donating food, they erupted in cheers for the family and thanked them for bringing them a taste of home.

Lilian Mejía stocks up on essential produce to cook her signature dishes like chicken stew. "The first thing everyone says they miss when they leave their country is the food. We're happy we're able to bring home to them once a week," she says.
/ Tomás Ayuso for NPR
Lilian Mejía stocks up on essential produce to cook her signature dishes like chicken stew. "The first thing everyone says they miss when they leave their country is the food. We're happy we're able to bring home to them once a week," she says.

The joy that flashed over so many faces got Aguilar and Mejía thinking: They had to do it again, and they had to go bigger. Funded by friends in America wanting to help, the pair set out to feed 1,000 mouths a week. For the family to undertake this monumental task, they hired people from the caravan, upgraded their stove and set aside a whole work day to "cook enough food to feed an army," Aguilar says.

Mejía believes a warm meal, cooked by Honduran hands, brings these folks back a sense of humanity that the long, difficult journey had taken from them. More than 2,700 miles from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the caravan found family one step away from the U.S. And here, Aguilar sees his responsibility clearly: "They're our brothers and sisters, and as long as they're here it's our duty to look after our own."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Migrants eat under the orange hue of a blinking street light. The gallons of stew are gone in a heartbeat. Even though they fed hundreds that night, Lilian Mejía can't help but tear up when she announces the food's gone to those who didn't get any. "They're so hungry, you just want to feed all of them but it's impossible," she says.
/ Tomás Ayuso for NPR
Migrants eat under the orange hue of a blinking street light. The gallons of stew are gone in a heartbeat. Even though they fed hundreds that night, Lilian Mejía can't help but tear up when she announces the food's gone to those who didn't get any. "They're so hungry, you just want to feed all of them but it's impossible," she says.

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