Carmen the Riveter

Carmen castaneda a rosie the riveter at age 100 celebrating with family members

Carmen Castaneda says her husband would often ask her “What are you singing for?” Her reply was always the same. “Well, I’m happy!” and then she would challenge him, “What are you going to do about it?” Over her remarkable life, Carmen has learned to never back down. “I had six brothers and they taught me how to fight like a man.”


Just days from her 100th birthday, Carmen makes a fist and shakes it in the air. The living room of her Oceanside home fills with laughter and applause. In that moment, surrounded by friends and family who adore her, she looks every bit like Rosie the Riveter, the iconic advertising image celebrating female defense workers during World War II.

It should not be a surprise. Rosie the Riveter is part of her DNA. 80 years ago, all those posters and songs about women in wartime factories could have been patterned after her real-life experience. With so many men sent overseas, Carmen became one of the thousands of women who went to work at San Diego’s Consolidated Aircraft. It was a dramatic life change. She had been a cashier in the family’s Mexican restaurant, so doing rivet work on an airplane and later installing wire harnesses inside the cockpit of a bomber called for an entirely different skill set.

Now having reached the century mark, Carmen is gifted with very keen recall for specific events in her life. As we interviewed her for an upcoming episode of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego, she remembered her childhood home near where Petco Park is today, and the family’s near miss with federal agents during prohibition. They entered her house but bypassed opening a pantry door, behind which “My dad had a big barrel of moonshine.” And later when war was declared, “That was scary because they could bomb us at any time.”

With the passing decades, women like Carmen, who can recall first-hand what it was like to hold defense factory jobs in wartime San Diego, have become an increasingly rare find. “I was always proud of my work and the good it was doing.” At the age of 100, she is proud of something else too- that she did not back down, that she kept her sense of happiness and good humor, and that, through it all, like Rosie the Riveter, she could “do it.”

Carmen Castaneda will be profiled as part of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego Episode # 92 airing Thursday night, April 11, at 8:00 PM with a repeat Sunday, April 14, at 4:00 PM.

Ken Kramer is creator and host of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego on KPBS-TV, a weekly variety show of stories about the history and people of our county. His radio and television segments have been a part of San Diego’s media landscape for more the four decades. He graduated from San Diego State University in 1974.


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Kamran Saeed