Royal Chicano Air Force
The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) is a Sacramento, California-based art collective, founded in 1970 by José Montoya and Esteban Villa. It was one of the "most important collective artist groups" in the Chicano art movement in California during the 1970s and the 1980s and continues to be influential into the 21st century.
Founding and name
In 1969 José Montoya moved to Sacramento to study art at CSU Sacramento. He and faculty member Esteban Villa, who had been active in the Mexican American Liberation Art Front, a Chicano movement group founded by Montoya's brother Malaquias. The Rebel Chicano Art Front (RCAF) was founded to foster the arts to the Chicano/Latino community, educate young people in the arts, history and culture, promote political awareness, and foster support for César Chávez and the United Farm Workers in the heavily-agricultural Sacramento-Davis area. As to its name, one day when someone asked if the RCAF meant the "Royal Canadian Air Force", one of the artists responded, "No, it means the Royal Chicano Air Force!" From that point on, the artists used the "Air Force" motif in their artworks, programs, and activities.
Through the organizational framework of a collective, artists and community members established a silk screen operation to create multiples of images promoting art, cultural activities, community events, and political action. The work of Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican printer of the late 1800s and early 1900s, inspired the artists for this work. At the same time, with the example of the great Mexican muralists, the artists undertook mural painting to bring cultural images and history to a larger audience. The organization grew to the point where a need for a space for artists was planned. The RCAF established the Centro de Artistas Chicanos moving from temporary quarters in homes, garages and La Raza Bookstore to Holy Angels School at 7th and T Streets. Later, a space was established on Folsom Blvd. and finally a center on Franklin Blvd. These spaces allowed for continual meetings, planning of events, workshops, studio activity and freedom to work around the clock. First, Max Garcia took on the directorship, followed by Gina Montoya and Ricardo Favela. Thousands of posters were created over the years with designs from multiple artists. Murals were painted throughout Sacramento (many now painted over) as well as Chicano Park in San Diego and in Washington and Oregon. Through the university, Jose Montoya, Esteban Villa and, later, Ricardo Favela, taught a generation of young artists the techniques of silk screen, muralism, drawing, and painting. Jose Montoya went on to establish the Barrio Art Program, representing an effort to reduce barriers between the CSU campus and the Alkalai Flats community. The Barrio Art Program brought young people and senior citizens together with aspiring teachers in the University's teacher training courses to learn to integrate the arts with education. The program continues to this day at the Washington Neighborhood Center located in downtown Sacramento at 16th and D Streets. Other RCAF artists, like Juanishi Orosco, Armando Cid and Rudy Cuellar taught there as well as in other community settings. Armando Cid and Juan Cervantez became artist facilitators in the Arts in Corrections Program teaching art and bringing guest artists to adult inmates. The RCAF had also a history of bringing the arts to youth offenders within the California Youth Authority, specifically at the reform school known as the Preston School of Industry in Ione, CA.
Through the efforts of RCAF members and CSU students, Phillip "Pike" Santos and Louie "the Foot" Gonzalez, La Raza Bookstore was established in 1972. The absence of written works about or by Chicanos and Native Americans led to this effort. The Bookstore was established at 1228 F Street, Sacramento. Later a gallery was established and the name was changed to La Raza Bookstore/Galeria Posada (named in honor of Jose Guadalupe Posada). The RCAF was featured prominently over the years in exhibitions, but perhaps more importantly, it became the exhibition space for countless numbers of visual artists of national importance. This community bookstore and gallery became an active center for Chicano/Latino and Native American art, poetry and music. Following the administrative oversight by Phillip Santos, the bookstore has had as some of its directors: Armando Cid, Tere Romo, Victoria Plata, Luis Chabolla, Marisa Gutierrez, Francisca Godinez and since 2008, Marie Acosta. La Raza/Galeria Posada is now occupying its sixth home in its 40+ years of existence.
Through its work in organizing exhibitions, mercados, dances, and cultural celebrations, the role of music became an important component of the RCAF. Freddie Rodriguez established the Royal Chicano Air Force Band, an ensemble performing a variety of genres from cumbias to blues. The RCAF Band featured lead singer Gloria Rangel who was later joined by her sister Irma "Cui Cui" Rangel. The band performed throughout Northern and Central California. The effort was successful in crystallizing the sounds of the barrio and taking the message of the RCAF to the people. Freddie's RCAF Band created, wrote, and performed a Chicano rock opera "Xicindio" in 1980 at the Sacramento Community Theatre for a national conference of bilingual educators that was later aired on PBS. The band eventually broke up with Freddie Rodriguez remaining in Sacramento where illness took his life. Gloria Rangel also passed away shortly after the band broke up but had returned to Los Angeles. Irma Rangel continues to perform and record under her name. Others, most notably Jose Montoya and Esteban Villa continued to play corridos and ballads playing their guitars. With the arrival of maestro Rudy Carrillo, the quality of performance grew and original music was composed leading to the establishment of El Trio Casindio—a four or more sized ensemble. An album was recorded and released entitled "All Day Music". More on this below.
Another important alliance came with the work of Joe Serna, Jr. Joe and his family had returned to Sacramento in 1968 from service in the Peace Corps in the mountains of Guatemala. His interest in political change was in his core. He had been a child in a farmworker family and his commitment to work with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers came early. He joined with the RCAF to further that work. The RCAF embraced Joe and soon thereafter worked with him to carry out the work of organizing and engaging in local political campaigns leading to the election of the first Mexican American to the City Council in a century. Joe Serna taught political courses at CSUS and eventually worked for the Lieutenant Governor, Mervyn Dymally before he embarked on his own political career. He ran for and became a Sacramento city councilman. Later he became the mayor of Sacramento until his death by cancer in November, 1999. His wife, Isabel Hernandez, also an ardent member of the RCAF circle since the 1970s died a year after Joe from cancer as well.
Members of the RCAF have worked as educators in all levels of education: elementary, high school, community college and university; they have taught in prisons, youth correctional facilities, neighborhood community centers and cultural facilities. They have served as artists in residence for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC) and the California Arts Council. They have served as board members and trustees of many arts organizations including La Raza Galeria Posada, the SMAC, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Western States Arts Federation, the Concilio de Arte Popular and the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of the National Museum of the American Latino.
Two special major collections of RCAF posters have been donated by Ricardo Favela to the CSU Sacramento Archives and Special Collections Department and to CSU San Jose. These Favela collections will provide academics, researchers and community members a valuable visual art resource for the future. Other posters, photographs, personal papers and organizational materials have been donated by various members of the RCAF to the Colección Tloque Nahuaque and the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the Donald Davidson Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The RCAF began operating out of the Washington Neighborhood Center and frequently held events at Sacramento's Southside Park. To fund their activities and to support the farmworkers, they held dances, performances, and other fundraisers, for which they created promotional posters that visually incorporated the themes of the Chicano Movement. They also received funding support from the Washington Neighborhood Center and California State University, Sacramento.
The RCAF painted murals throughout Sacramento, as well as several in San Diego's Chicano Park and one in Burley, Idaho. Community art workshops included the Barrio Art Program and the Anciano Art Project, for children and the elderly, respectively. For high school and college students, there were workshops in silkscreening and muralism.
The members of the RCAF did not restrict their activities to the arts. Inspired by the free breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party, they and other activists such as Jennie Baca and Rosemary Rasul implemented the Breakfast for Niños program for impoverished schoolchildren in the Sacramento area. Members of the RCAF also established a book store that would become La Raza Bookstore that would eventually be known as La Raza Galeria Posada still operating in Sacramento. The RCAF, under the directorship of Gilbert Gamino, ran an automotive repair cooperative called Aeronaves de Aztlán.
The RCAF organized cultural activities such as a yearly poetry readings called "Flor y Canto", and revived indigenous Mexican practices such as celebrations of harvest ("Fiesta de Maíz") and the rainy season ("Fiesta de Tlaloc"). Tere Romo, who worked with the RCAF to re-establish the Día de los Muertos celebration in Sacramento in 1975, said that they had "an Indigenous ceremony with dance offerings, along with a Catholic mass, because there were a lot of older, traditional people there, and it's a holy day of obligation for Catholics." They soon established the Centro de Artistas Chicanos, a workshop for the production of posters for community events. There, thousands of posters were created over the years. Out of all this activity came the music of the Royal Chicano Air Force Band established by Freddie Rodriguez and featured the vocals of Gloria Rangel and Irma Rangel. Eventually, Esteban and Jose established the Trio Casindio under the strong mentorship of Rudy Carrillo. Their first recording, All Day Music, was released in 1985.
In 1995, Steve LaRosa and KVIE-TV, a public television station in Sacramento produced a film on the RCAF. Entitled, "Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the RCAF", the film has been shown annually throughout the region. In 2008, KVIE produced a follow up DVD entitled, "The RCAF Flies Again".
In 2007, La Galeria de La Raza, San Francisco honored Juan Carrillo with the Premio Galeria for his contributions to the Latino arts community. In 2010, the RCAF was honored by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) for Lifetime Achievements at its national conference in San Jose, Ca. In May, 2011, José Montoya was honored at a Sacramento concert at César Chávez Plaza as one of the "Fathers" of the Chicano Art Movement.
The collective continues to operate presenting group and individual art exhibits while Villa and Montoya have added recordings to their repertoire. Recent exhibits of the RCAF members occurred at CSU Sacramento Library Gallery, 2007, Arte Americas in Fresno, 2008 and The Sacramento Central Library, 2009, the Brickhouse Gallery, La Raza Galeria Posada, Luna's Cafe and the Washington Neighborhood Center, all in Sacramento. Following his 2007 "heartaches & Jalapenos" CD release of original songs, Esteban Villa released his second CD of original music in 2010 entitled Habanero Honey. In June 2013 Villa's third CD, "Holy Mole!" was released.
Prior to his death in 2009, Armando Cid was commissioned to restore his murals at the Washington Square Apartments. His family saw to it that the project was completed and installed. The unveiling took place in August, 2010.
In the late summer, 2011, the RCAF members began to restore their murals located in Chicano Park, Barrio Logan, San Diego. Jose Montoya, Esteban Villa, Juanishi Orosco and Celia Hernandez were contracted as lead artists and were responsible for the work. Teams of artists including Sam Quinones, Danny Orosco, Domingo Orosco, Juan Manuel Carrillo, Carlos Lopez, Tomas Montoya, Maceo Montoya and Irma Lerma-Barbosa participated in the work.
Juanishi Orosco received a commission to paint "Capaces", a mural completely covering the four exterior walls at a Chicano service center in Woodburn, Oregon in the summer of 2013.
On September 25, 2013, Jose Montoya, the co-founder of the RCAF, died of a lymphoma on his aorta. He was 81.
- José Montoya (deceased)
- Esteban Villa
- Ricardo Favela (deceased)
- Armando R. Cid (deceased)
- Juanishi V. Orosco
- Rodolfo "Rudy" Cuellar
- Luis "Louie the Foot" Gonzalez
- Juan M. Carrillo
- Joe Serna, Jr. (deceased)
- Eva Garcia (deceased)
- Lorraine García-Nakata
- Juan Cervantes
- Max Garcia
Other members include: Sam Rios, Hector Gonzalez, Josie Talamantez, Katy Romo, Luzma Espinosa, Elvia Nava, Frank Godina, Eli Nuñez, Mary Garza Gee, Isabel Hernandez (deceased), Gina Montoya, Danny and Irene Frias, Rudy Morones, “Turtle” Rodriguez, Ged Martin, Oralia Polendo, Irma Lerma-Barbosa, Senon Valadez, Gloria Torres, Manuel Diaz, Raulie Suarez, Rosa Hernandez, Tim Quintero, Bennie Trujillo (deceased), Miguel Escobedo, Freddie Gonzalez, Clara Cid, Rudy Carrillo, Angelo Alvarez (deceased), Xavier Tafoya, Bill Gee, David and Melinda Rasul, Rosemary Rasul, Tere Romo, Richard Montoya, Pedro Hernandez, Freddie Rodriguez (deceased), Jennie Baca (deceased), Gloria Rangel (deceased), Irma Rangel, Rico Hernandez, Carlos “Stubbo” Portillo (deceased), Lupe Portillo Carrillo, Richard Rodriguez, Gloria and Gilbert Gamino, Albert Mestas (deceased), Jesse Ortiz-Ocelotl (deceased), Juanita Polendo, Ramon Ontiveros, Daniel de Los Reyes, Fast Eddie Salas, Sam Quiñones, Lucy Montoya, Phillip "Pike" Santos, Joe Camacho (deceased), Junior Baca, "Mexico" Cid, Manuela Serna, and Eva Serna.
- Jose Montoya, Sacramento Poet and Artist, has died,. http://www.sacbee.com/2013/09/26/5771228/jose-montoya-sacramento-poet-and.html
- Ricardo Favela, Obituary, Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jul/26/local/me-favela26
Tatiana Reinoza, Art Blog: http://taty.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/we-remember-ricardo-favela/
- Armando Cid: California Arts Council on the passing of Armando Cid: http://www.cac.ca.gov/newsroom/vaultdetail/id/127
- Nicolás Kanellos; Francisco A. Lomelí; Claudio Esteva Fabregat (1993). Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Literature and art. Arte Publico Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-1-61192-163-2.
- Shifra M. Goldman (Spring 1984). "A Public Voice: Fifteen Years of Chicano Posters". Art Journal 44 (1): 50–57.
- Stephanie Sauer (Winter 2012). "The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force". Boom: A Journal of California 2 (4): 118–125.
- The Royal Chicano Air Force
- Marchi, Regina (2009). Day of the Dead in the USA: the migration and transformation of a cultural Phenomenon. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4558-5. available on Google Books. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
- "Pilots of Aztlán: The RCAF Flies Again". KVIE-TV. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
- "Unveiling of Public Art Mural by Armando Cid". Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. August 21, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Richard Montoya (October 13, 2013). "An appreciation: Jose Montoya’s legacy of art and activism remembered". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Sacramento Bee
- Diaz, Ella Maria. Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force: The Ongoing Politics of Space and Ethnic Identity. Thesis (Ph.D) College of William and Mary. 2010.
- Diaz, Ella Maria, "The Necessary Theater of the Royal Chicano Air Force", Aztlan, A Journal of Chicano Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2, Fall, 2013, pp 41–70.
- Esteban Villa Homepage: http://www.chilipie.com/rcaf/
- Juanishi Orosco: http://juanishi.tumblr.com/
- Guide to the Ricardo Favela Poster Collection/San Jose State University: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1v19r5t3/