February 1, 1996
by Yolanda Reynolds
Last week, at a memorial service at CET (Center for Employment Training) for Dr. Antonio Soto, a striking message was obvious – one person, can make a difference. Dr. Soto was one such person who was inspired and has inspired others. If Dr. Soto were to read such a statement he would be the ﬁrst to dispute that he achieved anything alone, however, anyone who worked with him would credit Dr. Soto for providing the inspiration and determination to make good things happen.
In a very special way, San Jose was especially rewarded for his many years of commitment to social justice and economic opportunity for all communities, in particular those that have been left by the wayside such as farm workers, the poor, immigrants and other less fortunate, oftentimes including Latinos or members of other minority populations in the Valley.
Ermelinda Sapien, the Executive Director of CET spoke for those in attendance at the memorial when she pointed out that the memorial was held to “celebrate the life of an extraordinary man.”
Jim McEntee, the Director of the Santa Clara County Department of Human Relations and a 33-year acquaintance and colleague of Anthony Soto, observed that “he (Soto) was a man of prayer and a man of action.”
McEntee described watching the, then Franciscan priest Anthony Soto, stand in protest at the front wheels of a 22-ton cement truck in downtown San Jose. Soto and others were opposed to the construction of the CPA (Center For Performing Arts) unless Latinos and other minorities were able to get jobs in the largest City public building project of that time (1969). Fr. Soto, along with several others, were arrested and jailed for disrupting the peace. Now the City requires evidence for the consideration of minority workers in contract awards.
In another brewing labor issue of the mid-sixties – McEntee says, Soto walked much of the way from Delano to Sacramento with Cesar Chavez in case of the farm workers, who were protesting their very low wages and even worse housing and working conditions.
McEntee, a former priest, explained that Anthony Soto had been, for him, a “mentor and role model”. He said, “Anthony preached the Gospel, lived the Gospel. In today’s words, he could say he (Soto) walked the Gospel.”
Anthony Soto is considered one of the prominent civil right leaders of the County and the State, whose contributions on behalf of justice go beyond the confines on the Santa Clara Valley. He, with his colleagues and fellow community advocates, founded and established the job training center, CET, well known national and internationally for its successful program. A number of years ago it was declared to be the most active job training center and was directed by the World Bank to serve as a model for training others to establish similar programs worldwide.
Dr. Soto believed that “every person had a right to a decent job and a decent place to live” and that such would be possible with good job training.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Beall, a long-time admirer of the work at CET, pointed out that, for him even before election to this first public office, he had been inspired by the moral leadership that Anthony Soto provided. Supervisor Beall mentioned that Anthony Soto’s strong values instilled the belief in himself and others that “we must protect and educate the youth and that this job is never over.” Beall has remained committed to social services to those less advantaged.
Beall is credited with taking a lead in directing Federal dollars towards CET to help enhance the important opportunities that the Center provides to many disadvantaged and too often overlooked able bodied and hard-working citizens. Nationwide, CET has trained and placed in jobs over 70,000 students.
In the 1960’s, a major shift in the Catholic church and many religious left the organizations. For many of those who left, their community work and commitment to justice continued but in a different way than before. Many are married and have families – some have remained single. however, for most of their lives are devoted to helping others. Soto met and fell in love with the community activist and then widow and mother Phyllis Armas, who he married in 1974.
After leaving the order Anthony Soto studied at Sociology at Berkeley where he was awarded a doctorate. He then became a Professor at San Jose State University and remained there for over a decade.
Joe Medal, CET board chairman, pointed out that it was “challenging to step into the shoes” of Dr. Soto, who since 1967 had been board chairman.
Dr. Soto continued to attend Board meetings until a few months ago, when his illness did not allow him to leave his home. Friends of Dr. Soto say that, until the very last day of his life, his mind was sharp and clear. Dr. Soto had such a quiet but determined demeanor. He exuded a strength that gave courage to others.
Phyllis, his wife of many years, explained how she came to understand the tremendous suffering that Dr. Soto experienced before he died. Mrs. Soto said that she understood then that each of us must discover our true selves and while we have our health to do the very best that we can. She explained that the many letters and visits helped her realize that “God’s work, (which was Dr. Soto’s work) would continue through each of you.”
There are few times that such devotion to ideals and a purpose of life can persist and be so effective as was expressed at this gathering of the “CET family” in memory and celebration of the years of work of Anthony Soto.
The CET auditorium/dining hall was filled with students, teachers and admirers. Simultaneously, memorial services in Dr. Soto’s memory were celebrated at 40 other CET centers across the Nation. In a style that Dr. Soto would have thoroughly enjoyed, there were songs accompanied by guitar and mariachi into the early afternoon. It was a celebration of his life. There were, as well, memorial services, in the evening, at Our lady of Guadalupe the church founded and established by then Father Soto and located in the heart of the Latino Community of San Jose.
Soto died last Tuesday evening after suffering, for over a year, the debilitating and painful effects of spinal cancer. He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Phyllis Armas Soto, and his children, David and Cecilia Armas. Dr. Soto was born Oct. 22, 1921 in Tucson. Arizona.
Sr. Don Antonio Soto le agradecemos el amor y la inspiración que nos dio, no solamente a unos pocos pero a toda nuestra comunidad. Gracias. © La Oferta Newspaper.