Honouring Rosa Castro

Castro. Image: UVic Photo Services.

Throughout Rosa Castro’s 35 years at the University of Victoria —22 of which she worked in Facilities Management, with 14 of those in the Clearihue building — she has worked hard to maintain our built environment with professionalism and good humour.

And it’s not just our spaces she’s kept clean. Castro has held three jobs concurrently throughout this period to provide her family with a solid foundation that had been taken away from her early in life.

“When you grow up poor and come to a country where there’s a chance to make your life better, then no matter what else you do you work,” Castro explains. “I’ve seen what financial instability is like and I didn’t want to end up that way.”

Born and raised in El Salvador, Castro and her husband were forced to sell their possessions and flee their home country in the 1980s when a civil war that was being fought between the government and a coalition of left-wing groups came knocking at their door.

“My husband was a welder with a small body shop that employed three or four workers,” she recalls. “One day a guerilla showed up with a gun he wanted fixed, which my husband did. After, the fighter said ‘you’d be a good asset to our group.’ And we knew that if my husband declined, they would either kidnap or kill him, so we had to leave.”

With three children under the age of six in tow and only two suitcases between them, Castro and her husband managed to cross into Mexico by convincing border agents they were just visiting to attend the FIFA World Cup.

Ironically, the World Cup got them into the country, but it was also the cause of a hotel room shortage in Mexico City, where Castro and her family had landed. After staying in a Mormon temple for the first night, they were helped by a generous woman who heard their story, invited them to her house for the weekend, then allowed them to stay for another two and a half months while they applied for refugee status in Canada.

For Castro, her grandmother, Victoria, who had passed away less than three weeks prior, came immediately to mind.

“My grandma used to help people in need and stray animals all the time. I remember asking ‘why do you always bring these people and animals to our home?!’ And I remember her response. I’ve carried it with me ever since,” Castro says with great solemnity. “She said ‘Just remember – I won’t see the results of what I do, but you may need help one day, and people will give it to you even though you don’t know them.’ So when the woman helped me in Mexico, it brought tears to my eyes. My grandma was watching over me.”

Once in Canada, Castro’s first big challenge was learning English. As a teenager, she had frequently skipped English classes, thinking they would never be of any use to her; yet it was an English class at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria that led her to a job at the university, where she would work for the next three decades.

In 1987, an English language instructor tasked Castro’s class with completing a job application as a practical assignment, then suggested that Castro apply to the University of Victoria where her own mother-in-law worked at the time. Castro completed the application, submitted it and began working for the division of Residence Services at UVic that fall, while also working on the side as a support service provider for an elderly woman.

All told, she was kept as an on-call labourer for five years in Residence Services before gaining full-time employment. She then stayed in that division for another three years before joining Facilities Management in 1996, where she has worked ever since.

“I like to joke around that I have a degree in shit-ology now,” she says with a great laugh. “Some people feel bad about being a cleaner, but not me. If you’re willing to work hard in Canada, you can get ahead.”

Today, Castro is a proud grandmother of five with a home of her own in Saanich and a hard-won foundation built with family and friends. When she retires at the end of this month, she will be remembered for her diligence, dedication and joviality while working at the university.

We are grateful for her decades of service and the many laughs she has brought to our hallways.

“Rosa’s story is one of a woman who has endured many challenges with strength, intelligence and compassion while working to create stability for herself and her family. And she has done so while proving herself a reliable and friendly colleague. We honour her journey and wish her continued health and happiness as her story continues beyond our spaces.”

— Annalee Lepp, Dean of Humanities

Article by Philip Cox