Skip to main content

New book examines works of famed Chicano artist, activist

José Montoya was a leading figure in bilingual and bicultural expression drawn from barrio life, the Chicano Movement and multiculturalism in American art. His life and work accounts for historical changes amid world wars, the counterculture and rise of the civil rights movements.

Ella Maria Diaz, associate professor of Latina/o studies and English in the College of Arts and Sciences, examines the life and work of the vanguard Chicano artist, poet, professor and activist in a new book, “José Montoya.”

As an artist, poet, and musician, Montoya – who died in 2013 at age 81 – produced iconic works depicting pachuco and pachuca culture, based on his own experiences as a youth after World War II. Montoya co-founded the art collective, Royal Chicano Air Force, in the 1970s and helped organize for the United Farm Workers (UFW). An influential educator, he established the Barrio Art Program in the early 1970s, and taught at California State University, Sacramento, for over 20 years.

“Writing a book on his work and career dovetailed with the research for my first book project,” Diaz said. “But I also knew José and loved him as an elder, a teacher and an iconic artist and poet of the 1960s and 1970s Chicano movement.”

Diaz examines Montoya’s remarkable career, which traversed decades, languages, media and genres. The book is illustrated with reproductions of Montoya’s art from rarely seen archival slides and documents from his prolific collection at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A significant contribution to digital humanities work, Diaz’s study weaves oral histories and archival research with images available online, proposing a new model for the study of U.S. Latinx artists who reject the boundaries between visual art, poetry, music, education and community activism.

“My book emphasizes Montoya’s online collections to promote the ideals of inclusion, visibility and participation in the body politic and public sphere,” Diaz said. “I hope readers will explore the online collections of American artists like Montoya, who have created the imageries, styles, sounds and various forms of representation that have shaped our shared American culture.”

Diaz also wrote “Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force: Mapping a Chicano/a Art History,” (2017), which won the 2019 Book Award for the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies. She also has written for several journals, including Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Chicana-Latina Studies Journal and ASAP/Journal.

She received her Ph.D. in American studies in 2010 from the College of William and Mary, and arrived at Cornell in 2012.

Marti Dense is the program administrator for the Latina/o Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Media Contact

Gillian Smith