Internationally recognized for his profuse artistic production, Montoya was a tough fruit tree whose shade sheltered the hopes of a people whose struggle pave the way for all of us indoamericanos, Latinos and Hispanics in Los Estados Unidos. By Fernando Andres Torres. September 26, 2013. LatinOPen. (Includes the poem El Louie)
El Vato de Atolle; José Montoya left us.
Today at 4:50 pm passed away in Sacramento, California, José Ernesto Montoya, a prolific artist and perhaps one of the most important thinkers of the Chicano people in the United States. Montoya was a co-founder of the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF), a collective of artists who translated the Chicano experience, life and culture into art expressions including poetry, spoken word, drawing, music, canciones, paintings, murals and guerrilla theater.
Internationally recognized for his profuse artistic production, Montoya was a tough fruit tree whose shade sheltered the hopes of a people whose struggle pave the way for all of us indoamericanos, Latinos and Hispanics in Los Estados Unidos.
I had the good fortune of meeting him in the 80s. He was well-informed about the struggle of many países latinoamericanos against the US puppet military regimes, and he was always ready to support the plight of the Chilean exiles in the Bay Area. In turn, José for me was the door through which I entered and learned about the history of the Chicano people in the US. Since then, I have taught my US-born kids that their history is pretty much linked to that of the Chicanos en las ciudades y campos del país.
I invited him several times to La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. From his presentations I learned about caló and that Spanglish is not broken Spanish but the contrary — a language in construction, a sieve to catch the best of the two languages, a warm and smooth familia talk. Jose would never say family, like he couldn’t, he always said familia. I enjoyed the mestizaje of his music with the Grupo Casindio (Almost Indian).
I learned about his drawings, stories, paintings and especially his extraordinary poems. As any indio of all-lands, he was a simple, supportive, humble but profund, analytical, and firm in defense of social justice. Jose was a Pachuco, a Lowrider, a Zootsuit, a poeta loco always fresh out of the joda, but above all – as one of his sons, Richard, put it – “he was a shoeshine.”
KPFA’s milestone Chicano broadcaster Gavilan Molina recently said that Jose took one steps forward and became a “hero of our people” who “legitimized calo” and demonstrated in books and universities’ class rooms the beauty and possibilities of the language. An underdog who never lowered his hat and went ahead writing the most telling and beautiful poems, placing calo in the mainstream, like it or not.
But, lo mas importante, I had the opportunity to tell him how important was his job, how important was his art and how pivotal the experience of the Chicano people was for Latinos everywhere . Listening intently, José pulled one of his books of poems from the wool chuspa that he used to hang from his shoulders – just like a Mayan, Aztec or Aymara. I told him that the struggle of the Chicano people opened the doors for us newcomers and the next generations, our children. The progression of their movement is the story of all Latinos and it is thanks to them that today we enjoy some of its most important gains.
Richard continued: “His last three breaths were like books – each end so long and of effort – the first book was of courage – the second book of dignity – the third of humility – 3 books to teach us – a life time in split seconds and precious frames … Then the light in Sacra changed … the clouds and he was off atop … He is God.”
And as he said in one of his most celebrated poems , The Louie : “The end was a cruel hoax. But his life had been remarkable ¡”Vato de atolle,” Jose Montoya!
El Louie (Por / By José Montoya)
Hoy enterraron al Louie
And San Pedro o sanpinche are in for it. And those times of the forties
and the early fifties
lost un vato de atolle.
Kind of slim and drawn, there toward the end, aging fast from too much booze y la vida dura. But class to the end.
En Sanjo you’d see him sporting a dark topcoat playing in his fantasy
the role of Bogart, Cagney or Raft.
Era de Fowler el vato, carnal del Candi y el Ponchi – Los Rodriguez – The Westside Knew ’em and Selma, even Gilroy.
48 Fleetline, two-tone – buenas garras and always rucas – como la Mary y la Helen . . . siempre con liras bien afinadas cantando La Palma, la que andaba en el florero.
Louie hit on the idea in those days for tailor-made drapes, unique idea – porque Fowler no era nada como Los o’l E.P.T. Fresno’s westside was a close as
we ever got to the big time,
But we had Louie and the Palomar, el boogie, los mambos y cuatro suspiros del alma
y nunca faltaba the familiar gut-shrinking love – splitting, ass-hole-up tight – bad news
Trucha, esos! Va ‘ber pedo!
No llores, Carmen, we can handle ’em.
Ese, ‘on tal Jimmy? Hórale, Louie Where’s Primo?
Va ‘ber Catos en el parking lot away from the jura.
Trais filero? Simón!
Chale, ese! Oooooh, este vato!
And Louie would come through – melodramatic music, like in the mono – tan tan tarán – Cruz
Diablo, El Charro Negro! Bogard smile (his smile as deadly as
his vaisas!) He dug roles, man, and names – like blackie, little Louie . . .
Ese Louie . . .
Chale, call me “Diamonds”, man! Y en Korea fue soldado de
levita con huevos and all the paradoxes del soldado raso – heroism and the stockade!
And on leave, jump boots shainadas and ribbons, cocky from the war, strutting to
early mass on Sunday morning.
Wow, is that el Louie
Mire comadre, ahí va el hijo de Lola!
Afterward he and fat Richard would hock their bronze starts for pisto en el Jardin Canales y en el Trocadero.
At barber college he came out with honors. Después empeñaba su velardo de la peluca pa’ jugar pócar serrada and lo ball en Sanjo y Alvizo.
And “Legs Louie Diamond” hit on some lean times…
Hoy enterraron al Louie.
Y en Fowler at Nesei’s
pool parlor los baby chooks
se acuerdan de Louie, el carnal del Candi y el Ponchi – la vez que to fileriaron en el Casa Dome y cuando se catió con La Chiva.
Hoy enterraron al Louie.
His death was an insult porque no murió en acción – no lo mataron los vatos,
ni los gooks en Korea.
He died alone in a rented room – perhaps like in a
The end was a cruel hoax. But his life had been remarkable!
Vato de atolle, el Louie Rodriguez.
José Montoya leyendo El Louie: Here
See Sacramento Bee Slideshow here
See Jose playing calo vihuela “Chicken Mole Bones” here