Chicano Icon was World-Renowned Artist, Poet Laureate of Sacramento, Calfornia, Social Activist and founder of the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) today mourns the loss of Chicano icon, Jose Ernesto Montoya, beloved father of MALDEF Vice President Gina Montoya, MALDEF National Board Member, Carlos Montoya and actor/writer Culture Clash co-founder Richard Montoya.

Montoya passed away late yesterday at his home in Sacramento, California, surrounded by family. Born in Escobosa, New Mexico, José Montoya, a Chicano artist, poet, and musician/songwriter, was one of the pioneering art activists in the Chicano movement. Having grown up in central California, Montoya became involved with organized labor, and collaborated with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement in the struggle for migrant farm workers rights. In 1970, he co-founded with Esteban Villa, the Rebel Chicano Art Front, also known as the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF), one of the groundbreaking Chicano artist collectives. The RCAF set the standard for using art to bring public awareness to Chicano history and culture and as a tool for educating youth. Montoya also founded CSUS's Barrio Art Program in 1970, a program that thrives to this date. A multi-talented artist, Montoya was named the Poet Laureate of Sacramento. He was the author of three collections of poetry, including the highly acclaimed In Formation: 20 Years of Joda. He recently completed four books of poetry essays and memoirs, How I Came to America From Chili, to be published by Charley Trujillo's Chusma House.

The Montoya family asks that their need to grieve privately be respected. A public memorial and celebration of his extraordinary life will be announced in the near future.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz offered his condolences to the Montoya family:

"The Chicano movement, led by so many iconic figures with diverse and extraordinary talents, has lost a giant in Jose Ernesto Montoya. At MALDEF, we have experienced his tremendous legacy through the ongoing service of two of his children. From this experience, we know that his talents and gifts to humanity and the cause of justice and righteousness will live on. Still, we pause and mourn the loss of his mortal life, and share our heartfelt condolences with the family and close friends who will miss him most acutely. We share their sadness in this poignant time, and we acknowledge the magnitude of his personal contributions and accomplishments, confident that his legacy will live on to inspire and to catalyze the ultimate creation of the just society he so assiduously sought."

Dolores Huerta, renowned labor leader, civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farmworkers also mourned the loss of Montoya:

"It is with great sadness that I say adios to mi querido amigo, Jose Montoya, an amazingly talented and influential Chicano bilingual poet, teacher, musician, artist, and founding member of the Royal Chicano Air Force. He was a great leader who utilized his art and activism in the name of social justice. He lived his life in service to others and made a major lasting impact on the civic, cultural, and political life of the city of Sacramento and beyond. His creativity and sense of humor illuminated our struggle and always motivated us to keep pushing forward. He will truly be missed."

"May his soul rest in peace as he joins Cesar, other members of the RCAF, and leaders who dedicated their lives to the Farmworker and Chicano movement. May his familia find consolation in knowing his spirit and legacy continue to inspire and touch the lives of all who strive for justice. ¡Viva Jose Montoya! ¡Si Se Puede!"

More information on the life of Jose Ernesto Montoya may be found at and

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund