With a tenure of nearly 30 years, Oscar Soto’s infectious jovial spirit has become a staple in the Princeton Seminary community for many students and colleagues. Grateful for the career he established at the Seminary, Soto pauses to recount the arduous journey that led him to where he is today.
“Oscar is a vital part of the facilities department. He aims to please; that is his goal in everything he does,” says German Martinez, director of facilities and construction. “He is very well-respected and admired by everyone on campus.”
Soto arrived to the United States from Guatemala at the age of 23 by way of an immigrant visa. He was in search of greater opportunities. He didn’t speak English, and he was suddenly immersed in a new culture and had no familial connections. In fact, it would be another five years until his wife and son could join him in the States after completing the immigration process. In spite of his circumstances, Soto was determined to create a better life for his family.
Looking back on the situation, Soto remembers how naïve he was about what it would take to start over in a new country. “I grew up without a television, without a computer. I didn’t know anything about the world beyond Guatemala.”
“I just started knocking on doors in search for work. I began on one end of Nassau Street and would keep knocking all the way down to the other end,” remembers Soto. “It was tough; not speaking English was a huge barrier.”
Eventually, a local restaurant hired Soto. But he soon realized that many of the workers in similar situations had been in the same role for over a decade—washing dishes and sweeping and mopping floors.
Soto was no stranger to meager conditions himself. He came from a small town that “had a lot of unemployment and poverty.” He shared that his home consisted of a dirt floor and the walls were made up of coconut and bamboo.
Determined not to become stagnant in his current position, Soto relentlessly pursued employment that could meet the needs of his family. He took the advice of an acquaintance and began to apply to other organizations, the Seminary being one of them.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any openings at the time. However, Soto persisted and was hired seven years later when a position became available.
His new position drastically improved his quality of life. “For the first time in my life, I worked Monday through Friday. I had a professor’s schedule,” says Soto jokingly.
He was grateful to be able to enjoy weekend activities with his wife and children, as well as for the health benefits for his growing family.
Looking around the campus today, there isn’t a campus building that Soto has not cleaned, repaired, or prepared for an event. Soto takes great pride in maintaining the Seminary’s buildings and grounds and working with his team to prepare for the many events that take place on the active campus.
“Oscar oversees the custodial operations, maintaining the cleanliness of all campus buildings,” says Martinez. “He is a key person for the many events on campus, including seminars, conferences, and meetings. Oscar and his team take care of event preparation flawlessly.”
Soto’s contributions to the Seminary community extend beyond his daily responsibilities. Last year, he was a part of the nine-member mission team that the Seminary dispatched to help Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico (SEPR, or Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico) in San Juan heal from the devastating effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria. From January 27 through February 3, the team worked alongside SEPR staff to prepare the campus to reopen in time for classes to begin on February 5. Soto returned in October with the team to continue helping the island recover.
When asked what’s ahead for him, Soto replies, “I’m thinking about retirement. My wife and I have many goals.” Soto says even a return to Guatemala is a possibility.