Artist and Poet José Montoya



By the late 1960s, we have the Chicano Movement begin to consolidate. And the whole concept of what is Chicano Art is being discussed throughout the Southwest. I was concerned that our people did not know their history, did not know who we were. Who are we? Where do we come from? What are the images of the barrio?

I wanted a historical update on the Pachuco. So that we could show people that there was a lot of class

1940s Zootsuiters

in being what you guys are calling gangsters or hoodlums. I remember them very fervently wanting to show the man that they weren’t lazy, dirty Mexicans.

"Pachuco" by José Montoya

That they could dress as sharp as Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind. The could work hard to have their drapes tailor made by good tailors. For them it was a matter of showing they had class, and still they got their ass kicked with the Zootsuit riots and all of that.

"New Symbols for La Nueva Raza" flyer

Once the Chicano Movement got going, they were looking for people with abilities. It was the power of the movement. The notion that we could better the plight of our people, finally. That we had the tools, that we had the people to do it and this was more important than showing at the Crocker Gallery or showing in New York. That was not what we were going to use our talents and abilities for. We were going to use them to further and correct the wrongs that had been done to our people and to use them, more than anything else, as an organizing tool.

Esteban [Villa} was teaching silk screening in the barrio, Eduardo Carrillo was doing murals, I had the barrio program for kids. We needed a term to sign our posters. We were going to be known as the Rebel Chicano Art Front.

Royal Chicano Air Force artists

And only the initials would go in the posters or murals. People began to see RCAF and they were curious about what our connection was with the Royal Canadian Air Force. We would try to explain, “No, we’re the Rebel Chicano Art Front.” Finally, someone just said, “No man, we’re the Royal Chicano Air Force!”

And from then on it took a whole different meaning. They gave us flying helmets, and a local grower gave us a jeep. So we would do our locuras (craziness) dressed as pilots with goggles and leather flight jackets with fur and go to Safeway to boycott grapes in a jeep.

RCAF Pilot José Montoya

Then there was a crop duster that crashed and in the inquiry the pilot said that the RCAF has been the fault for him crashing–andaba pedo el vato (the guy was drunk). But he tried to claim that Cesar Chavez had his own private air force, and that they were called the Royal Chicano Air Force and that they should be investigated. So we go investigated by the Aeronautics Commission. And they asked us, “who’s in charge?” “Well, we can’t tell you.

José Montoya reads poetry

Its top secret!” We just went along with the locura (craziness)and its still going on!