COMMUNITY

This Old House

Meet Silvia, retiree, home remodeler, and SF Fire Credit Union member.

This Old House

Silvia Castellanos is proud and passionate about a lot of things: her career with the city, dancing, traveling.

Evidence of this pride and these passions is displayed all over her beautiful house in the Mission, another thing she’s particularly invested in and the reason she became an SF Fire Credit Union Member.

Silvia’s retired now, and her face lights up when she talks about it. “I love it. No guilt. I am so happy to be retired.”

Silvia is not a long-standing SF Fire Credit Union member, but says she wishes she had come to us sooner.

A few years before she retired, she says she “took stock” and realized she wanted to “give some love back” to her house, “this beautiful old house” that is hers and her kids.

“San Francisco Fire Credit Union was something that other city employees turned me onto.

The people were so great and so encouraging, just from the get-go.”

Silvia had reservations about taking out a Home Equity Line of Credit. She thought most people took one out much earlier in life.

“But that was not a cause to worry,” she says. “This is when I’m doing it. Again, the people were so encouraging.

 And it was quick, it was prompt, it was professional. I so appreciated that.

 I started on my home project and I’m going to continue, thankfully with the help of the Credit Union.”


 

Looking around her house, I suspect one reason Silvia is so devoted to giving it some love is because it is somewhat of a museum to her passions.

There’re stacks of books she’s checked out from local libraries. “My library card is getting pretty dogeared,” she tells me. There’re pictures of her family, her hometown in Mexico, and a colorful variety of paintings, sculptures, and crafts.

In addition to reading, dancing, and going to the theater, Silvia loves to travel, to experience new things and meet new people.

She gets particularly animated when she talks about going back home to Mexico, to a small town she’d never been to before. A small town filled with magic and surprises.

I’ll let her tell you about it in her own words:

“This little town is touted as one of Mexico’s magic towns, or pluebo magico. It’s so surprising. It is a little town with a cobblestone street that leads you to the beginning of a forest path. That path winds up a mountain and comes to a little temple.

And so it’s almost like you’re on a pilgrimage, because you start down the cobblestone street, you get to the base of the mountain, and you start up the forested path, and you keep going.

It’s steep, and it zigs and it zags, and so many times you think about giving up, and so many times I thought I cannot do this, I am 60 I cannot do this.

But no, you do not give up. And you make it to the top. And you get to that little temple. And you see the towns all around you. And you have an appreciation for the stone masons and the builders that trekked up that very same path to build that temple, that thousands and hundreds of years later is still standing.

You see the offerings still made to the gods, to the universe, to the creator. To help us all here on this planet. And you are still surprised. Life continues to surprise you.”


 

It’s not just that small town that has a special place in Silvia’s heart, it’s Mexico itself. That’s home.

Silvia’s family immigrated to the United States in 1964, coming through Nogales, Arizona. Her father had already prepared a flat for them here in San Francisco.

The journey was exciting and their new life in SF was filled with hope and promises. But it’s the date that stands out to Silvia. 1964. The year Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

“It changed the course of history in this country for the better,” she says, “and I think that was just the beginning.”

Years later, Silvia started working for the city in the EEO unity, the Equal Opportunity Unit. And she found herself responsible for enforcing that very law.

“I see it as one of those closing loops in life. Crossing to the U.S. in that momentous year and then having the privilege of being a part of the whole compliance movement in the City.

“I love sharing that,” she says with a smile and a spark in her eyes. “I love sharing that. It pleases me to no end.”


 

Silvia loves this city. She spent her career working for it, caring for its streets and its people. Working to prevent discrimination and to help workers who became disabled or hurt, to help them find another city job.

“And that was…that was great. Keeping them in city service, I really enjoyed that.”

I ask Silvia if she sees a common thread between her career, the SF Fire Department, and the Credit Union. A common thread of giving back.

“Definitely. And there’s so many ways you can do that. So many ways to become involved, stay engaged, and do something good.”

As we look forward to 2023, maybe that’s something to think about. How can we get involved, stay engaged, and do something good?

“It’s so important,” Silvia tells me. “People need to keep that in mind.”

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