By Brianna Lusk
7:34 PM PST, February 20, 2013
Composure comes easily to Sylvia Preciado-Platero. Contemplative, she picks at a rumpled tissue. It’s the stories she’s really only told to her friends, maybe her children. Years of a documented life in the journals she keeps, the things in life aside from what goes on in her professional world, are a little more foreign to her public persona.
Interviewed dozens of times, Preciado-Platero is often discussing the latest emergency mobilization, educating the public on first aid awareness, or raising funds for those in need near and far as the service manager of the Imperial Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.
Years ago, with a fire blazing behind her, she conducted interviews for the newspaper and television without flinching, in her professional mode.
Preciado-Platero is perhaps best known as “The Red Cross Lady,” a title summarizing the thousands she’s helped and the lives she’s touched while at the helm of the office with the familiar red door on Broadway.
It’s when she talks about her past — her family, her husband’s death, her upbringing — where the memories take hold and the title that has for so long followed her around the Imperial Valley fades. The other titles she lives by: daughter, mother, sister, wife, and grandmother emerge, giving her a complexity and faceted life that many never get the privilege to hear.
“Who I am is what makes me do a good job. I believe in the good of this world, and I’ve seen people who are going through the worst in life and being at their best,” she says. “How can I not draw strength from that? It restores your belief in humanity.”
Quiet But Heard
As a young girl literally “nacio en rancho,” or born on a ranch, Preciado-Platero was raised in the rough and tumble era when kids played on the canal banks and hijacking a tractor on the farm was the making of a good day as a 4-year-old.
“I was once run over by a truck,” she recalls with pride. “We weren’t worried about getting hurt, we just didn’t want to get caught.”
The first American-born Preciado, the youngest of four girls, Preciado-Platero was born on the Brandenburg Ranch in Calexico. Her biological father, Gabino, was a cowboy recruited from Guadalajara during the bracero program era. Her mother Maria Guadalupe and the rest of the family was sponsored to immigrate to the United States.
But her parents’ marriage was short-lived, and within a few years her mother moved within the city limits of Calexico. Preciado-Platero describes her mother’s decision to leave as one of the many ways she would exemplify quiet strength.
“My mom was good at asserting herself, but it wasn’t by raising her voice,” Preciado-Platero says. “My mom was dressed up all the time; she knew how to wake up and carry elegance.”
It wasn’t long before her mother married the man whom Preciado-Platero would call her father for the rest of her life, Ricardo Ayala. “He brought us up as his own, we are his children,” she says of her mixed family’s upbringing.
“My dad taught me how to think tall,” she smiles. “My mom taught me how to dress tall.”
Ayala, who owned properties across the border and worked stateside with farm labor contractors, recently turned 90. Even with her parents’ limited resources and lack of knowing English, Preciado-Platero says they were always involved in their children’s education, open houses at school and activities.
“My dad is the only non-English speaking Republican I know,” she says. “My husband was so similar to my dad. He always gave us what we needed and a little bit of what we wanted.”
Preciado-Platero’s sister, Gloria Cross, says the age difference between Sylvia and the rest of the children in the family forged her independence and spirit. She was at one time the “baby” of the family and then all at once the eldest when her younger siblings were born and the older kids left the house.
“My mom would have her do a lot of things on her own. She used to go to the laundromat by herself, and with these older ladies who were trying to take over how she should do things … Sylvia held her own,” Cross says.
Though she had a lot of responsibility, being the in-between older sister, she emulated her mother’s composure and dedication to working for the family.
“Mom used to like to see people work. That was the nicest thing she could say about anybody, was that they were ‘trabajadora,’ or hardworking. We knew that aside from being honest, that was important,” Cross remembers. “Sylvia definitely embodies that.”
Cross says her sister carries a kind of quiet strength that is “polite but that should not be taken that for granted. It doesn’t mean she’s a pushover — she’s a strong person with manners. She can be really tough.”
Preciado-Platero says she was infinitely inspired by her mother, and even in high school, while others dreamed of life outside the home, she clung to the idea of keeping a home and taking care of others.
“It sounds silly, but I always wanted to be a housewife,” she laughs.
Rekindling of a Friendship
Although they met in seventh grade, Preciado-Platero and Miguel (Mike) Platero didn’t strike up anything more than friendship until 1979, a year after they graduated high school.
In high school Mike was every part of the “bad boy you weren’t supposed to date,” she says. He had long hair and wore sandals, but when he showed up at a party a year later, he was clean cut.
Platero had joined the Navy and seemed different, more mature.
When a mutual friend was killed, Preciado-Platero wrote Mike a letter of condolence.
“I didn’t think anything of it, it was just a note, but we started talking,” she remembers.
Through two tours in the Navy, the couple stuck it out together. They were married in 1982 and their first child, Miguel Jr., was born in 1983.
“Mike never lost himself. He was the kind of guy who always encouraged you to speak out and do what was right. You wanted him on your side. He would provide you with strength,” Preciado-Platero says of her late husband.
Read more about Preciado-Platero in the February 2013 edition of Valley Women Magazine in print or our online E-Edition.
Copyright © 2013, Imperial Valley Press