I’m a Berkeleyan: Teresa Ochoa on coming to California, 34 years in custodial services

portrait of Teresa Ochoa smiling

Teresa Ochoa has been working in custodial services at UC Berkeley for 34 years. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

“I was 16 when I met my husband. We dated for three years and got married when I was 19. At my wedding, I felt like a princess. I still have my dress. The whole town was there. The church was full of people — they were standing at the door. We had chickens, turkeys, sandwiches, sweet breads and a special drink with liquor, pineapple and cloves.

Teresa and her husband José during their wedding with a bunch of people sitting behind them

Teresa Ochoa and her husband, José Ochoa, during their wedding in Cacaopera, El Salvador. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Ochoa)

I’m from a small town called Cacaopera in El Salvador. Since I was a young girl, I was always dreaming of coming to America. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to be there.’ Before I got married to my husband, I made a proposal to him. I said, ‘I’ll marry you, but after, you need to go to America.’ One month after we got married, he left for California.

At the beginning, he worked with his cousin, who was a carpenter in the Bay Area. He sent money back to me, and I saved all of it. I bought my ticket and moved to San Francisco a year and a half later, in 1979.

I had seen movies and pictures of America. I got impressed. But when I got here, I couldn’t express myself because of the language barrier. I had been learning English in El Salvador, but it wasn’t the same. So, I enrolled in adult school in San Francisco, where I learned English. They taught us all the basic stuff. I started getting it and talking more.

two photos: Teresa with her baby daughter and her two kids

Left: Ochoa and her daughter, Roxana; right: Roxana and Ochoa’s son, Mauricio. (Photos courtesy of Teresa Ochoa)

I started working as a custodian at UC Berkeley in 1984. I had an interview, and on the same day, they told me I got the job. I was hungry to work. I was cleaning 23 classrooms every night and maintaining a hallway and a small auditorium. When they offered for me to work overtime, I always said, ‘Yes.’ When you have kids and a house, you have to pay your bills.

I worked my way up, from senior lead custodian to acting supervisor, and now I’m the manager of custodial services. I’ve been on campus for 34 years. Right now, I oversee 90 employees, including four supervisors who each manage their own teams. You can tell someone is a really good employee not by the way they dress or talk, but by how they do the job.

I’ve met all my goals. I already gave an education to my kids. I paid off my house in El Sobrante. My husband and I don’t have any health issues so far. I feel very happy. Both of my kids and their families own their own houses, and I have a granddaughter.

After I retire, I think I’m going to discover more of the world. I might go back to school — probably to Contra Costa College — and finish getting my degree in education. I want to work with kids with disabilities. That’s my plan, but I don’t know how I’ll feel when I retire.”

Teresa and John holding brooms and smiling

As the manager of custodial services, Ochoa oversees 90 employees, including John Lane (left), an assistant supervisor. After Ochoa retires, she plans to go back to college and get her degree in education. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

This profile is part of a series highlighting staff who have worked at UC Berkeley for 30 years or more, as a way to celebrate their contributions to the campus. It’s produced by Anne Brice and Gia White, an administrative director for the Institute of European Studies, who has worked at Berkeley for 30 years. 

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