STOCKTON (CBS13) – There is a place in Stockton where the history of the Chicano movement lives on and the stories of so many Hispanic veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice can be shared.
The Chicano Research Center is a non-profit organization that once started in someone’s basement.
In 1969, Vietnam War veteran Richard Soto picked up his first literature book that detailed the rich history of Mexico and Mexican-Americans.
Soto had just returned home from war. He was a surgical nurse attached to the United States Marine Corps. The Chicano movement was already underway when Soto noticed a big problem.
“Mexicanos and Chicanos were demanding classes about us and we got them, but there were no books,” he said.
Soto knew these books existed and began a search.
“They really didn’t have anything specifically dealing with the history of Mexico as it relates to our experience here in the United States,” he adds.
When he was in college he had 25 books and that quickly turned into 125. He now has more than 25,000 books in a new center he opened in east Stockton a little over a year ago.
“We spent the first six months just pulling nails out, repairing things, everything had to be painted. We hand-built our own book cases,” said Soto.
From Pancho Villa to Cesar Chavez, there are also audio books and plenty of music in this special library, but Soto’s favorite section is one that highlights his own personal history.
“I have to say my favorite section is probably the war section because there’s a model for Vietnam veterans that all gave some, and some gave all and both of that applies to the Mexican community because as you know we have per capita have more congregational medal of honors in our community than any other community,” said Soto.
The books have attracted many teachers and several students who have used the library to get through class projects. Soto says his facility has also inspired young people to pursue higher education.
“They helped me get into colleges, to look at colleges, do my homework. They inspire me because some stuff I didn’t even know about us,” said 17-year-old Mallela Madrigal.
Even those it takes close to two-thousand dollars to keep the center running every month, Soto says you can’t compare that with the knowledge being passed along.
“What I want them to see and to leave with is a wealth of information that is available to them,” said Soto.
He hopes bringing new businesses into this neighborhood will attract more foot traffic and eventually donors down the road.