When Magali Echevarria moved to the United States from Cuba it was the 1950s and relations between the two countries turned cold. Her family moved to New York City in January and they had never known the real winter. In fact, the only idea the seven-year-old had from the United States was an image printed on a greeting card of children on a red sledge.
Since then, Echevarria has lived in all corners of the country – and in particularly warmer climates. From New York she moved to Miami and then to Puerto Rico, with her next stop in San Francisco. Then, last July, she finally landed in the middle of St. Louis.
When she decided to move to St. Louis, she had previously only been in town to visit a friend. But money was a strong motivation; She knew a steady income wouldn’t support her in San Francisco. In her late 60s, she decided to take one more train for another adventure.
Of her new home in Southwest Gardens, she says, “I love my neighborhood; I like the art.” She also loves the brick architecture. Still, there are things she misses. “Everything is distributed here, in San Francisco the places are closer together.”
Change is at the core of Echevarria’s nature. After moving to Miami at nineteen, she decided this wasn’t the place for her. She then stayed in Puerto Rico for eight years, but soon got bored. “It’s an island, and the islands are getting pretty small,” she says.
She moved to San Francisco in 1981 and was captured by the vibrant arts scene. She began working in the hospitality industry and eventually ran the Cadillac Hotel, a single-occupancy hotel in the Tenderloin that housed thousands of low-income adults who had no other location.
In the Cadillac, Echevarria was responsible for operating 158 units with fewer than ten employees. “I’m good at dealing with different populations,” she says. Often times the people walking through their hotel were undocumented, homeless and / or dealing with mental health problems and addictions.
“It was never boring,” she says. And as an immigrant herself, it was easy for her to empathize with her: “I consider it a privilege to know people from all over the world.”
Echevarria had planned to stay in San Francisco for a month but stayed for 36 years – the longest she has ever lived. At 68, however, she got the itch for one last drag. “I thought I was done with this part of my life, but I thought, ‘What the hell! Another change,'” she says. She chose St. Louis after a friend told her she could get a nice apartment for $ 600 / month. Without hesitation, she said, “OK, let’s do this.”
For the year since they moved, Echevarria has enjoyed just decompressing. A lifelong art lover, she spends her days painting, writing and reading. Retirement suits her at age 69. She claims the adjustment was easy and the timing was right.
However, if you’ve lived your life on the go, flipping the switch can be difficult. Recently, Echevarria has started thinking about volunteering with immigrants in the city, saying, “I’m ready to do something good again.” Until then, she enjoys her cats and the peace and quiet.
Magali Echevarria is featured in our Change edition. Check out all the great profiles online here.