Influential CCA Alumnus José Montoya Dies

José Montoya in 2001 (Photo: Dick Schmidt / The Sacramento Bee)

He was one of the most influential and inspirational figures in California Latino history. The poet, artist, and activist José Montoya died on September 25, 2013, at age 81, in his midtown Sacramento home.

He earned his teaching credential at CCA in 1962. Montoya was an important Latino leader, not only among the artists and activists of the 1960s and 1970s, but among innumerable artists of subsequent generations as well.

He campaigned tirelessly all his life for farmworkers’ rights, both on the picket lines and through his poetry and art. He taught art, photography, and ethnic studies for 27 years at Sacramento State University.

Montoya was born May 28, 1932, in New Mexico. When he was still young, his family moved to the Central Valley and became farmworkers. In 1969, the same year he began working on a master’s degree at Sacramento State, he and other Latino educators (all of them children of migrant farmworkers) formed the Royal Chicano Air Force, an artists’ collective committed to supporting the United Farm Workers while bringing art to the people.

“We wanted to be outrageous,” Montoya once said of the RCAF. “We didn’t want to be boring, so we now had an air force we could incorporate into the movement, which was about boycotting Safeway” to keep the chain from selling table grapes until farmworkers’ conditions improved.

“We would show up to Safeway dressed in Air Force uniforms and driving a World War II jeep,” which got the media’s attention.

Around 1970, Montoya and the RCAF opened a community center on 32nd Street and Folsom Boulevard in east Sacramento, where they put on plays and music and offered courses in silkscreening and mural making.