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Professor José Montoya Dies at 81

Chicano poet, painter, community leader and professor José Ernesto Montoya died in hospice at his Sacramento home on Wednesday. He was 81 years old.

Born in 1932 in Escobosa, New Mexico, Montoya’s family moved to California’s San Joaquin Valley in the early forties where they worked as farmworkers.

A veteran of the Korean War, Montoya went to art school on the GI Bill soon after returning home. Upon graduation, he began his teaching career teaching high school. After earning a master’s degree in art, he became a professor at the California State University, Sacramento, where he taught for 27 years.

Montoya’s accomplishments were many. Published author, recognized artist, professor emeritus, and poet laureate of Sacramento, a position he held from 2002 to 2004.

In Sacramento, Montoya was a community elder deeply involved in preserving Indigenous culture. For 20 years, he served as the door keeper for Guerreros, a coming of age Aztec dance ceremony for young men held annually in September.

José Montoya will be remembered by many as a gifted artist who paved the way for generations of Chicano poets, painters and musicians. His use of pachuco caló and Mexican colloquialisms gave voice to millions of bilingual and bicultural Mexican Americans who saw their experience reflected in his art.

Mr. Montoya will missed by his former students, the thousands who read his poems and admired his artwork, and the many who were blessed by the copal he kept lit as they danced with him to the beat of the huehuetl. May his memory live through his art for generations to come.