January, 1996, San Jose, CA
"My story is told because I was in a very visible position. There are many individuals whose stories should be told, but they are not as well known."
In January, 1996, the Center for Employment Training mourned the loss, and celebrated the life, of Dr. Anthony Soto. He co-founded CET in 1967, and served as its first Chairman of the Board, a position he held until 1990. In addition to his accomplishments at CET, Dr. Soto was a man of many interests who held a variety of careers. He was a Professor at the School of Social Services at San Jose State University, a published author, a Catholic priest for twenty five years, and a community activist for over thirty years.
Dr. Soto was born in Tucson, Arizona on October 22, 1921. In 1935, he left Arizona and entered a Franciscan seminary in California. He received his Master's degree in sociology from the Catholic University in 1950. Between 1950 and 1961, he served at the order's main seminary at San Luis Rey, where he was a professor of philosophy and the social sciences.
In 1962, he became the first Chicano pastor in the history of Santa Clara County (after the war between the United States and Mexico in 1946-48, the church replaced all the priests of Hispanic descent with European-Americans). He helped organize the first program of Chicano deacons in California.
Dr. Soto was the founding pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in East San Jose. Before Dr. Soto came to the parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe was a small chapel, but under his leadership, parishioners organized themselves into construction groups and raised the church building. This church became an important site in the war against poverty. It was here that Robert Kennedy attended the first "Misa Folklorica" (Folkloric Mass) in 1968, only a few weeks before he was assassinated.
The historic 1965 Farm Workers' March from Delano to Sacramento included Dr. Soto and a group from San Jose. In 1967, as a result of his interest in helping people become economically self-sufficient, he teamed with Russell Tershy to found the Center for Employment Training. Dr. Soto served as the first Chairman of the Board, a position he held until 1991.
In the late 1960's, during the construction of the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose, Dr. Soto engaged in civil disobedience protests. These demonstrations were organized because management of the construction company had not hired any minority workers for this important project. Along with thirty other protesters, Dr. Soto was arrested. However, the increase in community awareness that resulted from their actions led the City of San Jose to adopt an ordinance requiring Affirmative Action clauses in all City contracts.
In 1974, he married Phyllis Armas at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San José. They devoted their lives to education, community service and institutional reform. In 1978, he received his doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.
He spent his life teaching and devoting his time to community and leadership development, especially among minorities. He concluded that "the positive energy out there far outweighs the evil, but it is not often publicized. We need more role models for our young people." We are left to wonder if he ever realized that he was exactly the role.
The Chicano and the Church in Northern California, 1848-1978: A Study of an Ethnic Minority Within the Roman Catholic Church