Now 63 years old, El Soldado is looking a little worse for wear: The barrel of his weapon is broken, the strap of his helmet is missing, and he has cracks and mold on his back.
So after years of unsuccessful efforts to repair the Mexican American Veterans Memorial – the formal name for the statue across from the Capitol honoring Latinos who served in the armed services – the California Department of Veterans Affairs is once again initiating a push to fund the project.
The memorial committee will accept a $50,000 donation from Wells Fargo during an 11 a.m. ceremony at the monument, outside the Treasurer’s Office on 10th Street, putting it more than halfway to breaking ground.
“This is our first big donation and really kicks off the cycle,” said Mirtha Villarreal, the department’s deputy secretary for minority veterans and head of the memorial committee. “We are working aggressively” to finish the restoration next year.
The project will ultimately cost $800,000, all privately funded. But once the committee raises $300,000, it can begin a first stage that includes rehabilitating El Soldado, placing him on a red marble base inscribed with the names of the Latino Medal of Honor recipients, and constructing a sidewalk connecting the memorial to 10th Street. The donation from Wells Fargo puts the funding at close to $175,000.
Efforts to repair El Soldado have been long-delayed; last month, the governor signed a bill extending the deadline for state officials to raise funds by another two years. The statue was originally constructed in 1951, after a fundraising drive by a group of Mexican-American women that included church raffles and selling homemade tamales.