It was a typical weekday afternoon in the fall of 1944 in Los Angeles, California where the Rodriguez family lived when a hard knock came on the door. Mrs. Rodriguez opened the door to see two soldiers in uniform of which one held an envelope in his hand. “Mrs. Rodriguez?” asked one of the soldiers, “we are from the military department and we are here to inform you…” Before he could finish Mrs. Rodriguez knew exactly why they were there. She slumped over with the heartache and pain a parent would feel knowing that her son would not be coming home ever again from war.
Thousands of parents across the United States have received that uncomfortable news in every major military conflict the United States of America has been involved in. As a result, and in their memory, Memorial Day was established as a National Holiday in 1971. Although originally established as Decoration Day right after the Civil War, there was a group of Mexican American mothers in Sacramento, California who felt more needed to be done for the remembrance of the child they lost in World War II. They wanted a Memorial Monument.
These mothers organized themselves right after WWII and formed a group called “La Sociedad de Madres” (Mothers Society) and embarked on an effort to build a unique memorial to honor their children. In 1948, La Sociedad de Madres found a carved statue of a soldier that would cost $4,000 to purchase and ship from Italy. The amount was challenging for the time period, but the members of the group were up for the challenge.
Organizing a series of fundraisers (tamale sales), La Sociedad de Madres reached their goal, obtained the statue, placed it at Sacramento’s Mexican American Center, a community nonprofit, and conducted a formal dedication of “El Soldado” on May 10, 1951 (Mexican Mothers’ Day.)
After the Vietnam War, a push was launched to relocate the Memorial onto state property to better honor all Mexican American/Latino soldiers who died in battle. The push was successful and the memorial was moved to its present location on the grounds of the State Treasurer's building, facing the west-steps of the state Capitol. It is the only Memorial of its kind that sits on State property in the United States. Its rededication was held on September 16, 1975, which is also Independence Day in Mexico and several other Latin American countries.
At the time of its move and rededication, little consideration was given to the Memorials design regarding it being “visitor friendly” and a place for visitors to share a moment. However, as other memorial monuments were built around the Capital grounds, it became evident the El Soldado Memorial needed an upgrade and in 1980, a group of Latino Vietnam veterans decided to beautify and build out the Memorial to make friendlier and informative for visitors. But that group soon found out that the State of California would not fund a renovation since it was not a State memorial. To accomplish that task, they would need to raise private funds.
They worked toward raising money and even obtained an artist rendition of the renovation from world-renowned muralist and Vietnam Veteran Juanishi Orozco. Although the private efforts were admirable, after a decade and a half of trying to raise funds they fell short, and some of the members of the group decided to work with the California Department of Veterans Affairs and several members of the California State Legislature to obtain public support.
In 2007, the State Legislature created the Mexican American Veterans' Memorial Beautification and Enhancement Committee housed within the Department of Veterans Affairs to help secure private funding to complete the project. The estimated cost of the memorial restoration project was over $1.1 million. After a decade of work, enough donations were obtained to beautify El Soldado and placed on a new mount.
“What remains to be completed is the cement plaza on which El Soldado will be permanently located, the sidewalks leading into the plaza and a ‘Mothers’ Garden,” says Robert Ruiz, former Chairman of the California Mexican American Beautification and Enhancement Project. “Other enhancements will be in the next phase of the project.”
To complete the project a new nonprofit has been established called the El Soldado Latino Memorial whose goal is to raise the $650,000 necessary to complete the project. Their mission is to have the project completed and a formal rededication by September of 2022. Any and all support is welcome. - SacLatino