REANNA ESMAIL: Hello, everyone. Welcome. We are going to go ahead and start recording today's session. The recording will be posted on YouTube.
My name is Reanna Esmail. I am the Lead Librarian for Instruction at Olin Library and the Library Liaison to the Latina/o Studies Program. It's my pleasure to welcome you all to this Chat from the Stacks book talk with Professor Ella Diaz.
Before we get started, I wanted to acknowledge the land that I'm calling in from. Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohono, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohono are members of the National Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with the historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohono dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohono people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
Hosted by Cornell University, Chats in the Stacks is a book talk series that provides faculty authors with an opportunity to share their recent public published books with cross-disciplinary audiences. And with that audience growing larger all the time, we look forward to a time when we can safely welcome in-person audiences for events like this. But it's wonderful to see so many of you tuning in for this virtual format.
Before I introduce our distinguished speaker, I would like to mention that the question and answer session will follow the presentation, so please feel free to type your questions for Professor Diaz into the chat box at any time. I will ask them aloud after the presentation. Given that the session will be uploaded to YouTube, please let me know if you'd like me to read your name when reading the question.
And now without further ado, let me introduce Professor Diaz. Professor Ella Maria Diaz is an Associate Professor in Cornell's Department of Literatures in English and the Latina/o Studies Program. Originally from Northern California, she earned her bachelor's from the University of California, Santa Cruz in American literature and a PhD in American Studies from the College of William and Mary.
Professor Diaz has published articles in English Language Notes, ASAP/Journal, and Chicana-Latina Studies Journal on a rich variety of topics, including monuments, protest art, and visualizing autobiography. I'll mention only one recent publication with a fantastic title, "What's It All Meme?" which appeared this year in a volume titled, The Scholar As Human through Cornell University Press. Professor Diaz's first book was titled Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force, Mapping a Chicano/a Art History. Published in 2017, it received the National Association of Chicana/o Studies Book Award in 2019.
This is just one of many honors and awards that Professor Diaz has received. Others include the Kendall S. Carpenter Memorial Advising Award and the El Professor Award from the La Asociacion Latina. I chose to highlight these awards because they demonstrate that in addition to her excellent research and scholarship, Professor Diaz is also an excellent mentor and teacher.
Her newest book that she will be sharing with us today is titled Jose Montoya. The book chronicles Montoya's life and career as an artist, teacher, and activist. It has already been nominated by the International Latino Book Awards for two categories-- Best Biography and Best Art Book of 2021. Given the important role community plays in her research and teaching, I feel extremely happy that Professor Diaz is part of the Cornell community and that we all have the opportunity to hear more about her newest book and her work. Please join me in giving a warm virtual welcome to Professor Ella Diaz.
ELLA DIAZ: Hi, thank you. OK, so I'll get started. So thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about Jose Montoya volume 12 of the A Ver series with UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, and I'm grateful to my colleagues at the library-- Eveline Ferrretti, Reanna Esmail, Sean Taylor, Peggy Tully, and Suzette Newberry for the time they spent with me to prepare this virtual platform, which is a model of accessibility that dovetails several of the choices I made in this book on Jose Montoya.
I centered my research and the examples of Montoya's art, poetry, and prose, political and labor activism, as well as his teaching career on his collections at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, or SEMA, at UC Santa Barbara. And I made a conscious decision to use the online slides and scans of his art, sketches, photographs, as well as the selections available from his 85 sketchbooks through the Online Archive of California, or the OAC. And I'll talk about those hopefully later and the work that remains to be done in what is called the digital humanities.
As many of us who work, teach, and create in the humanities, the arts, and at institutions of higher education are aware, a decolonial turn or shift in consciousness is occurring in knowledge-- both how it's made, who's and what stories are told, who does the telling, et cetera. And as many of us also know who have some years on us or decades already lived, these challenges to cultural canons of nations like the United States and demands for representational inclusion have happened before. And they are important, and they should be met with excitement and open hearts and minds instead of fear or gatekeeping often expressed as traditional values or preservation of a fundamental national culture.
What these decolonial turns are about is a deep sense of connection to each other through a shared history of ideas, if not a shared reality or lived experience of those ideas. Some of the ideas I have in mind for today's talk on Jose Montoya are democracy and citizenship, as well as human and American. And I work in American Studies of our culture and history. And for me, a decolonial turn means focusing on the continual ways in which American, as a misnomer-- by which I mean a problematical category, a misleading location, or a fraught identity-- exceeds the national construct from its geographical, gendered, and racial imaginaries to its dominant notion of time.
And in the United States and Western culture and more broadly, time is figured as a linear progress, both forward-marching and accumulative, and not-- as art historian Ken Cornejo writes-- a cyclical view that predominates many Indigenous cultures in the Americas. So suggesting that US Latinx art-- in Montoya's case, Chicano art-- was invisible until now in American art history demonstrates an entrenched view of a singular American experience. Invisible to who? For example, certainly not invisible to me, nor generations of students and graduates and faculty of Chicana and Chicano studies.
So it's actually an epistemological problem. Our very being and awareness or the ontological perspective we seemingly embody, feel, and assume that we all share is taught to us, and we learn it in particular ways. And so my apologies for such a heavy-handed start to my talk, but now I'd like to make real or concretize my points with some facts and historical anecdotes.
So about that decolonial turn that we're in and notions of Western time is forward-marching, the A Ver series could be considered a decolonial intervention on American art history, but it's about 15 years old and older if we consider the planning stages for this series. A Ver means, "let's see," in Spanish, and as an art historical series, its revisioning of art history stems from the conviction that individual artists and their coherent bodies of work are the foundation for a truly meaningful and diverse art history. The series explores the cultural aesthetic and historical contributions of Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and other US Latino artists.
To date, there are 12 volumes, and there's certainly more on the way. And while its first single subject volume was released in 2007, the scholarly foundation for the series was based on a study commissioned by the Chicano Studies Research Center to address the absence at the time of US Latinx artists from American art history. Scholar and curator Rita Gonzalez completed a 2003 survey of in text citations for US Latinx artists, and she revealed what the absence of 93 artists in American art history looks like over time or what the resulting damage of the absence of scholarship on such artists does to a shared cultural consciousness.
She found few artists on her list had more than one article published about their work. And often, the few articles published consisted of brief exhibition reviews. In comparison, searching for hundreds of the most exhibited non-Hispanic artists would yield thousands of entries.
Institutional collections of artists like Jose Montoya-- many of which were deposited, processed, and scanned in the late 20th century at SEMA and then digitized and made available through the OAC-- reveals the Chicano artists have always been engaged with dominant ideas and dominating themes of American Art as transmitted through its institutions. But beyond a few art historical essays in obscure or small print run catalogs and a handful of monographs-- a few of which are in the A Ver series-- there had not been an art historical point of view that centered US Latin artists in the major motifs, eras, and ideas of American art history and culture. So the idea that a Chicano artist like Jose Montoya would count among his influences the Mexican muralists but also Anglo-American painters was not part of the conversation.
And clearly in these paintings here, Montoya has in mind Grant Wood's American Gothic and perhaps American regionalism, a style of painting and a period of American art that he probably encountered while studying at the California College of the Arts and Crafts in the 1950s following his service in the US Navy during the Korean War. In the title of her chapter "Tours of Influence" from Chicana/o Remix, Art and Errata Since the Sixties, scholar Karen Mary Davalos makes a play off the elite pastime of going abroad on trips to Europe to see great works of Western art, and Davalos tracks the impact of wartime service on Chicanos, some of whom joined the military to see these canonical works of art. The GI Bill allowed Chicana/Chicano and veterans alongside African-American, Asian, Native, and working class Anglo-American GIs to go to university, and thus go abroad in the sense of broadening their artistic influences.
In Decolonial Futurisms, Ancestral Border Crossers, Time Machines-- I'm sorry. I'm trying to move this out of the way. Kency Cornejo writes in Decolonial Futurisms, Ancestral Border Crossers, Time Machines, and Space Travel in Salvadoran Art that "Decolonizing the future, therefore, entails a decolonization of the past and present, a temporal simultaneity that delinks from a western rationality of time and space in the making of decolonial epistemology and ontologies that can exist in a pluraverse. The problem of modern ontology is the assumption that there's only one universe-- the western universe."
So how to make sense of this orientation of multiple worlds in terms of Chicano art and Jose Montoya specifically? Well, the expectation of a range of influences on an artist's work is not politically neutral. While a variety of inspiration is always assumed for Anglo-American and European artists and well-documented in other fields of art history and literature-- and I'm thinking of the canonical modernist poets-- fusions of art and cultural encounters and historical influences for US Latinx artists and Chicanos in particular have often been omitted or curtailed to adhere to an entrenched binary of interpretation for Chicano art.
A major American idea that Montoya has both engaged with and was disillusioned by in his art was the notion of the American dream, possibly the most embattled idea in the nation to date. And while studying visual art and arts education in the late 1950s and early '60s in the San Francisco Bay Area, Montoya encountered some of the majorly disillusioned voices of the American dream of that era in the Beat poets. And in this milieu, he also read Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound among numerous European and Anglo-American authors.
The influence of Whitman on 20th century American poetry is well known in American literary studies and in the cultural consciousness as many of us may recall the recent celebrations of Whitman's 200th birthday. But Whitman's influence on Montoya is not common knowledge in Chicano Studies or American art and letters, despite Montoya's 1969 poem titled Pobre Viejo Walt Whitman published in the foundational anthology El Espejo, The Mirror, released by Quinto Sol Publications, a Vanguard Publishing Group from UC Berkeley and made up of faculty, students, and surrounding Chicano artists and poets. Pobre Viejo Walt Whitman was almost completely missed by Whitman scholars, both in their literary anthologies of poetic responses to Whitman and the Walt Whitman archive that serves as a portal for several Whitman collections that have been digitized. Not until 2014 and the dissertation of Kelly Scott Franklin, a Whitman scholar, has this poem been analyzed as part of the creative and intellectual discourse on the canonical American poet.
And so to intervene on this absence, I focus a major portion of my chapter Chicano Storyteller, American Dreams and Disillusionment on Montoya's 50 year old Whitman poem situating him amongst the Beat poets who also took the challenge that Whitman posed in poets to come from the leaves of grass. As the A Ver series is essentially a primer, however, or an introduction, to artists like Montoya, it's limited in space. More analysis of Whitman's influence on Montoya beyond the poem that Montoya named for him is needed, especially given the decolonial turn in which we rethink and redress the idea of the American Dream.
Montoya, for example, made connections with the visuals of Whitman's war poems. This connection is clear, but unaccounted for in analysis of "La Jefita," one of Montoya's canonical poems in Chicano letters first exalted then critiqued for its representation of the farm-working mother.
In "A Sight In Camp In the Daybreak Gray and Dim," Whitman opens his mournful poem with language that constructs images or paints pictures with words emphasizing the sensory and tactile experience of the hospital tents as he bears witness to the human horrors of the American Civil War. 100 years later, Montoya also conveys the sights of the farm workers' tent in "La Jefita," but incorporates elements of sound as he draws a parallel between the human experience of war camps and the labor camps of the 1942 to '64 Bracero Program. In so doing, he changes the perspective both spatially and temporally of the American Dream, invoking those familiar themes of hard work, duty and sacrifice but reconfiguring the gender, ethnicity and racial composition of those working for their dream and that of their families.
Camps continue to resonate for us amid the world refugee crisis of the 21st century, given ongoing news reports and images of such camps from informal ones along the US-Mexico border to those that appear more like incarceration centers than shelter for displaced peoples. In the last 10 years, I, among many of you, certainly have weighed the consequences of the dominant and dominating trope, perhaps trap, of the American Dream. Now more than ever, its illusion shows delusion.
I think it was in 2017, at Cornell, I had the chance to hear historian and 2021 MacArthur Fellow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor speak at an American Studies event titled Dreaming Freedom, Speaking Resistance. Taylor asserted that it may be time to do away with the idea of the American Dream. I understood what she meant in the context of state-sanctioned killings of Black people in the United States and now amid pandemic; George Floyd and the numerous names of people who are murdered by police. The phrase "American Dream" and all it implies may be more violent and dangerous than salvageable. Perhaps, one of the failings of the American Dream isn't so much what it imagines and for whom but the sense of singularity with which we approach it.
American artists have continually revealed American dreams realized, denied, deferred and more turned nightmares. Contemporary art on the world stage continues to reveal the matrices of power and structural violence that determine the possibilities of life or lack thereof. But we haven't made our way through the antecedents and the art historical precursors to contemporary responses to war both world war and ongoing, low-intensity ones, like the US's war on drugs and the rise of the militarized police at home and throughout the Americas, which contain land and people in the attempt to enforce borders of empire and grow industries of nation based on legal forms of citizenship.
Here, in this artist's statement that you see turned into a prose poem by Montoya for the portfolio of artworks in which this drawing appears and those earlier oil paintings I showed you were first published, Montoya addresses the colonial logic of academic binaries in lines that say, "I paint because I am Happiness. I paint because I am in love. I paint because I can hate.
I paint because I love Orozco and Shan. I paint to destroy Orozco and Shan. I paint because I am confused. I paint because I paint. I paint to keep from going insane."
So he addresses the colonial logic of academic binaries, posing Orozco and Shahn, Jose Clemente Orozco and Ben Shahn, among his families and friends as being his great influences. And through the destruction not so much of cannons or people but of borders and the bifurcation of ideas being split between the geopolitics of nations, he forges a Chicano artist's point of view. And I'm pulling this, actually, from the digital collections of El Grito that are all available through the Open Door Archive that Northwestern University hosts. El Grito is also the journal that was published by Quinto Sol that also published the Vanguard anthology, El Espejo.
So in 1969, Montoya not only releases a portfolio of his drawings amongst other Chicano artists, he then also publishes the first collection of his Chicano poems through Quinto Sol Publications. And returning to those antecedents, to the contemporary responses to war, Montoya, as a child born in New Mexico in 1932, moved back and forth between Albuquerque, the Sandia Mountains and California's Central Valley. And his artistic talents went unnoticed in public schools, as he, like many children of farm-working families, moved for agricultural work.
There was one exception to the rule in high school in California when an English and drama teacher, Mr. Stanford, observed Montoya's creative talents and encouraged him to join the student council as an arts commissioner. Montoya recalled in an interview for his A Ver monograph that he became a writer because of Adrian Sanford, "who made me see how important it was to put down some of the things that were going on and had gone on in my life."
Montoya's first short story was an assignment for Sanford's English class, and it described his father's experiences of being deloused at Leavenworth prison when he arrived to serve a sentence for bootlegging during the Prohibition era. "They get them off the bus," Montoya explains. "They put him in this green room, they strip them, and they turn on this green mist to make sure there's no bugs on them."
Montoya's story was written so effectively that Sanford was blown away, and he read it to the entire class. And I could continue here on the impact that Sanford makes on Montoya, setting him on a pedagogical and artistic trajectory that merges with his Chicano movement politics in the late 1960s and gives shape to Montoya's work with his collective of Chicana and Chicano artists and the creation of a Barrio Art Program that today resonates in the relational aesthetics of contemporary artists as well as community art programs that are considered to be 21st century models, like engaged learning. And I'm going to talk about that.
But for now, I want to talk about that green gas, from its historical context to its resonance in the contemporary world. Similar to barbed wire as an indexical reference to manifest destiny, world war, and modern border policing, the green gas Montoya writes about reveals the relationship between the development of pesticides for agricultural and domestic use and chemical technologies for the mass killing of humans.
"German chemical company IG Farben bought the patent for Zyklon B during World War II," sociologist Bridget Andersson writes, and it was used in the extermination camps of the Holocaust. But its original use was as an insecticide that had been previously licensed for delousing Mexican migrants to the United States in the 1930s. Science fiction tropes of death gases and invader species are simultaneously historical and future realities for innumerable populations across the world today. Montoya's usage certainly points to the influence of post World War II science fiction.
But it also gestures to the humanism that was a framing theme and political demand for Montoya as a Chicano artist, his double gaze to invoke in self fashion, W.E.B. Du Bois' notion of double consciousness, of both being and seeing as a Chicano while hyperaware of how one is seen in the dominant lens or gaze, what William Mauricio calls hallucinations of the Mexican and America is why the American dream is still valuable as a 21st century frame for American art. For many who have never been human, the idea of humanism, the dream of it remains powerful and necessary as a future world of possibility.
Montoya's absence from American Art and Letters has ongoing consequences, particularly regarding histories of anti-war activism during the US' Civil Rights era. In 1999, Professor of literature and Chicano studies Jorge Mariscal wrote that the Chicano intellectual community did not produce a group of highly visible anti-war activists. Writers who composed the first cadre of canonical Chicano authors did write about Vietnam. But the core authors of the first Chicano canon-- and he means Rudolfo Anaya, Tomás Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa-- were of an older generation. And there were few nationally known Chicano public intellectuals to stand beside Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, or Huey Newton.
Mariscal's observation reveals the historiographical and intellectual damage that resulted from the absence of Montoya's visual and literary art in the American canons and subsequent cultural consciousness. A Chicano artist of that older generation, Montoya was a public intellectual who maintained an anti-war position in his poetry and songs in response to both the Vietnam War and the 30 years of US wars that followed, from "El Louie" in 1969, '70, "Gabby Took the 99" in 1972, "El Veterano" from 1976 to "A Chicano Veterano's War Journal" of 1989, and the anthologized song "Chicanos in Korea."
Montoya explored the individual and collective horrors of war in poems that connected colonial histories of conquest to late 20th century US wars and its interventions in Central American countries. Montoya also explored humanist perspectives on war in his visual artwork on paper, like War is Hell. Seen here in its slide form-- that's available online-- the haunting image is a front line perspective of the destruction of human life through the intimate portrait of a wounded soldier.
In a simple screen print on cardstock, he created an iconic anti-war image that communicates the spiritual contradictions of the Korean and Vietnam wars for Chicano soldiers. In Chicanos for Peace, Montoya used only one color and negative space to render the face of a Chicano soldier in shadow. He's wearing a large helmet, the effect of which conjures an image of a 16th century Spanish conquistador inscribing the soldier's helmet with the name Joaquin to reference Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez's epic poem "Yo Soy Joaquin." Montoya further allegorizes the image with crosses on each side of the soldier's face.
In the 1971 screenprint, "La Resurrección de los Pecados," The Resurrection of the Sins, created with his RCAF colleague and Vietnam War veteran Armando Sid, Montoya presents a tripartite head. This is an important symbol in Chicano art that visually represents Chicano ancestry as a mixture of Spanish and Indigenous heritage. Montoya explored this head and other mediums. But in the screenprint version, he exaggerated the size of the central man's eyes and mouth, which is agape, and signifies an audible howl. The profile of the man to the viewer's left is skeletal. The man to the right is slightly in shadow, but his profile suggests he's Indigenous.
The combination of the two faces in profile visualizes that vocabulary and ideas of anti-imperialism that were disseminated throughout the 1960s and '70s Chicano movement and that declared the Vietnam War to be an invasion like the 16th century conquest of Mesoamerican civilizations. Linking 16th century conquest to contemporary US wars, this tripartite head simultaneously evokes pre-Columbian imagery and indicts the ongoing persecutions of Indigenous peoples fighting for sovereignty.
Finally, in an early work on paper, Montoya documents his experience of the war back home, amid the growing farm workers movement in the '60s and the fight of agricultural workers for a living wage and humane working conditions. These visual works all reveal Montoya's long response to the global militarization of police and resonate in the current moment in which people rise up against forces of power beyond their control.
As Montoya grounded his artwork in his lived experiences, he also pushed the content and form of his art to create community education models that engaged intergenerational students and audiences across visual, textual, and performative genres, which in the 21st century is a key praxis for contemporary artists. But if we strip back the borders of academic disciplines and their designated objects, methods, and modes of study, we find the humanity that pervades Montoya's art.
He captures this in a story he tells in his A Ver interviews about a lesson he was given in watercolor painting. He was told that he needed to control the flood. A professor tells him this. A Professor is looking over one of his early works as he's training at the California College of Arts and Crafts and says that he's not a very good watercolorist or that watercolor should not be his forte. "Well," Montoya responds, "is that my fault or yours?" His question is so provocative it gives the instructor pause, and he then tells Montoya that he may be more successful if he learns to control the flood.
And this phrase perfectly captures many of Montoya's memories teaching painting and other arts in the community and the flood of emotions that he confesses to in journal entries that you see here. Just to read a bit of it, he's talking to some of the seniors from his class, explaining to them why they don't have the supplies due to budget cuts. And one of his older students comes up to him, Luizita, after class was over. "She grabs me as I was leaving and coyly but very assuredly handed me a brown bag with a huge slab of welfare cheese and a slab of butter and told me not to worry. Take this to your family and don't worry, señor. Everything will be OK." And then, he says that he sits in his truck for a short moment, embarrassed, looking around, hoping that the barrio wasn't watching my truck, because he's shedding a tear.
So what Montoya ultimately pursues across his lifetime as a barrio artist teacher was the art of building relationships. He captures this philosophy in his 1975 poem, "The Barrio Artist/Teacher." He writes-- or actually, he says, "Because to create is to give life, the barrio artist/teacher commits acts of love and risks seeming selfish. But to look into the eyes of a child discovering the magic of color amidst squalor, to see a stone vato loco caressing a ball of clay, to discern as wrinkled fingers forget the pain of aging, it has to be a selfless selfishness.
So to conclude on A Ver, or rather what we now see about the historical exclusions of Chicano/Chicana, Native American, African-American US Latinx, and other diasporic peoples from the American canons of art-- and I use art broadly-- it's been a loss for all of us, not just some of us, because it's a loss of connection to each other and the history of ideas of our time. The loss of connection that I'm referring to is the great chorus and at times cacophony of our American experience. The recovery of the records and catalogs of artists like José Montoya reveals the value of seeing, reading, and hearing other ways of being American, since Montoya is deeply American as a Chicano artist.
And one last slide that I'd like to show you in case there's questions about how to use the online tools, these are screenshots. Here, we're looking at a screenshot of the online archive of California that I mentioned, in which you can find the guide to the José Montoya papers. It's the CEMA 20. That's its collection number, the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archive. And what you see in red is actually clickable. You can actually peruse what's available online.
I'm not sure if you see my cursor. But there's an eye right here that shows you what you can actually see as a good deal has been digitized, including selections from the 85 sketchbooks that are also journals that are available. And one of the decisions that I really admire that the archivists-- the archival librarians made is that they digitized every single one of the sketchbook covers. I'm sure they did that as a point of reference of perhaps part of the finding tool method that they were using. But it really does give this tactile experience to looking at what's available online. So that is it.
REANNA ESMAIL: Thank you so much for that wonderful and important presentation. We will now start the question and answer section of this talk. For our audience members, please feel free to post your questions in the chat, and I will ask them aloud. As I mentioned before, this session is being recorded. So if you'd like me to read your name along with your question, please indicate that. We did actually already get one question, which is, did Montoya get any resistance for using English/Spanish in his poetry, i.e. his poem on Whitman?
ELLA DIAZ: Absolutely. In fact, I spend a lot of time talking about-- in the first chapter, "Chicano Storyteller," talking about the barriers to bilingual poetry, particularly Chicano bilingual poetry. I would also argue the Nuyorican poets experienced this as well. I spend a good three or four pages-- he receives it not only from English publications, but also Spanish ones. And yeah.
But Montoya is not alone in this discourse. In fact, there are several early bilingual poets, particularly Alurista, that were doing incredible things with alliteration with modern language device, bilingual word plays and puns on meaning. And they begin to publish in the small newspapers amongst the Chicano movement. But then, really, with the establishment of Quinto Sol Publications and the building up of a literati for the Chicanos, you start to see more Chicano bilingual poetry publication.
REANNA ESMAIL: Sorry. Just had to unmute myself. We have another question, probably a quick one. As someone who maybe might not be a student or have an institutional affiliation, how can one access the archives of Montoya, particularly the journals and sketchbooks?
ELLA DIAZ: OK. So I don't know if we can go back to my slides. That's a really important question, possibly the most important question that I'll get. The reason that I'd like to show the last slide that I--
SPEAKER: You can start sharing again.
ELLA DIAZ: OK. Thank you. Let me see if I can do it. All right. Great. Am I sharing? Can everyone see this?
REANNA ESMAIL: I don't see your screen.
ELLA DIAZ: Oh, OK. One sec. My apologies. The way that-- I'm sorry. I'm trying to get back to Zoom. No. I'm having a technical difficulty trying to share my screen.
I don't see the bar to share. OK. Well, I'll just try to talk it through then. The way that a person could look at José Montoya's collections is that you would go to Google. And I'll just do that now. You could type in online archive of California. It will take you to the first link is the online archive of California. And it says search OAC. And then, you could put in José Montoya. And what you're going to get is 100. It says right up top, the José Montoya papers. It shows you where they're hosted. And from there, you can search the guide.
The other way that you can go, though, is through if you were to type in on Google calisphere.org, spelled like it sounds, cali, and then sphere, S-P-H-E-R-E, .org. And that takes you right to the University of California online portal. And then, you could put in anything, really. You could put in the Royal Chicano Air Force. You could put in José Montoya. And you could put sketchbooks. That's what I'm doing right now. And I'm looking at the page that I was showing you when I had access to showing my slides. And you can click on any of those images of his journals, and it's going to open you up and give you a sample of each.
REANNA ESMAIL: Thank you for that. Everybody, I went ahead and posted some of those links in the chat. My apologies for the screen sharing issues. We did have one other question. Can you share a bit more on the process of writing an art history for an artist who worked across multiple media, some challenges, and also how that might relate to a decolonial approach to art history?
ELLA DIAZ: Yeah. I think that that's a really relevant question. That's of how I started the introduction for the book was in the history of the book, the production of the book, I don't think it's a secret to share that Montoya's A Ver volume went through, I believe, two authors prior to me taking over the project. And I always surmised that that had primarily to do with the bifurcation of the fields in which we work, that we're-- Disciplinary scholars are trained in a certain set of methodologies but also a certain idea of what research objects are.
And Montoya is an artist that worked across textual mode, literature, and certainly he's trained as a visual artist. He also was a teacher. And a lot of his early work in barrio art as well as at Sac State involved what we would call new genre art now, or we would call relational aesthetics, or contemporary arts, contemporary sculpture, bringing people together to create community interventions. And then, on top of that, he was also a musician, which is an area of the book that, basically, if anything was underexplored in the book, that would be it. So yeah. Artists like Montoya represent the, I would say, the difficulty and the impossibility of borders in terms of those points of connection that I was referring to.
Fortunately, for me, I'm an interdisciplinary scholar. I work in American Studies as my training. Both of my master's and my PhD are in American Studies. And so while I certainly have an understanding of narrative and literary text, I also have experience in thinking about visual art as text and reading the field. And I also have an appreciation for the historical context in which this work is made. Understanding who people are in relation to space and time is paramount for situating an artist like José Montoya within an American art historical canon.
What are the forces beyond his control that determine the coordinates of his life? Why do artists like Chicanos of the '60s and '70s end up using particular types of materials to create everything from homemade clay to cardboard, all the various materials at hand that nowadays, when we enter a MoMA, be it the New York MoMA or the SF MoMA, we think that this is unbelievably new and contemporary work. But poor people have always been making art and showing forces of resistance using the materials at hand.
So yeah. I guess I'm out in the weeds with the question. But that's why I was trying-- when I talk about Montoya in this way, that's why I try to also think with a great scholar like Kency Cornejo who's doing this work about decoloniality and making interventions on what we've called Chicano and Chicano art to show the way in which the futurities that we're thinking about, this idea of the camp, that we need to go back and we need to continue to mine the antecedents and the art historical collections to understand who's in conversation with who and how we arrive at these moments and these ideas.
REANNA ESMAIL: Thank you for that answer. I thought it was perfectly on track. So we have another question. You mentioned the exposure that Montoya had to the beat poets of the period. That made me wonder if they became aware of his work at any point, how might it have influenced them.
ELLA DIAZ: Well, I'm not all-knowing. OK. Well, now I have to-- I don't know if Kerouac, or Ginsberg, or the local poets were aware, but I'm pretty sure I'm thinking of City Lights, the quintessential beats hangout. This is a place where all the great Chicano poets and Chicano artists-- it's right down the street from the San Francisco Art Institute-- these people interacted, they commingled.
Very important book on Heart of the Mission by Professor Cary Cordova came out a couple of years ago, I think right around the time my RCF book came out. And she makes this incredible intervention on the beats and on '50s Bay Area history looking at that, not only the sound but the visual aesthetic of beat culture and connecting it to pachuquísmo, which was a big part of José Montoya's artistic trajectory.
And Professor Cordova says that this is dialogical. This is an exchange. The beats are looking at pachucos. They're looking at the politics of cool. They're hearing Caló. And by Caló, I mean expressions like no way, Jose, or entiendes, Mendez, or te explico, Federico, like all the word plays that are coming out of bilingual Chicano communities. And that is influencing beat sounds, beat aesthetics as well as beat performances of cool.
The argument isn't so much a chicken and egg one to say what came first. That's derivative and, in my opinion, pointless. But it's to show how artists are always in dialogue with each other, and absorbing, and influencing, and recreating. So that's a long-way-around of saying, of course, they were aware of the oral and aural aesthetics of José Montoya in one way or another.
REANNA ESMAIL: OK. We have one other question. And if anyone has any other questions, we might have time for one more after this one. You hinted that you wanted to say more about the future work that still needs to be done on Montoya in the digital humanities. It seems like many items have already been digitized, classified, and made accessible with detailed metadata. What kinds of future projects could students, researchers, or the general public do with this rich material?
ELLA DIAZ: I barely scratched the surface. In fact, the majority of comments I made today are not even in the book. They are just what comes after you put together a primer, after you've had time to absorb and digest an introduction to an artist. So the possibilities of mining his 85 sketchbooks, seeking out what portraits exist within those-- they're called sketchbooks, because they're a part of his career.
But they could also be called journals, because you'll find whole sections of writing that then you see in his essays or then you see become stanzas from his verses. Montoya's collection is one of countless important Chicana/Chicano collections at CEMA, the video collections that exist there. And I don't want to just start listing some of the understudied artists that are in collection there, but Rupert García, our very own Helena Viramontes is deposited at CEMA now. And Helena is at Cornell.
But yes. This is hopefully-- the reason I focused on the CEMA collection, because it's its largest collection, not the only one, certainly, but it is its largest collection in the university is in hopes that it will generate another period of work on Montoya. I can't stress enough that "Pobre Viejo Walt Whitman" is a 50-something-year-old poem. And it is not a part of any of the anthologies, the readers on Whitman.
In fact, in The Measure of His Song, which is probably the more well-known Whitman reader, when it's revised in the '90s, I think the second or third edition, Rudolfo Anaya, Bless me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlan, the author, he's asked to write a poem on Whitman. It's a wonderful poem. And we all certainly know Rudolfo Anaya. But it's interesting that "Pobre Viejo Walt Whitman" is not a part of that. So yeah. There's plenty left to be done on situating José Montoya.
REANNA ESMAIL: We have one other question. Were any Mexican artists or poets aware of Montoya's work? And any impact, what impact can be traced on that?
ELLA DIAZ: Yes. Most certainly, many Mexican artists, as well as Latin American artists, were aware of José Montoya. The Chicano movement was incredibly international. It was a part of the third world turn and the third world liberation movements of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. So you have a lot of international communication taking place through poetry, through print media, and circulation. I could go on. Pablo Neruda certainly knew of the Royal Chicano Air Force. And there are plenty of other scholars and poets of this generation that have written about the international communications.
REANNA ESMAIL: I think we have time for just one more question. Someone from Sacramento, and they said, Montoya's presence is still very integral to our community, particularly in terms of the danza ceremony. Is this something that you touch on in your work? Or how does the interaction with the ceremony is recorded academically to frame Montoya's work?
ELLA DIAZ: So that's a good example of something that could be done to continue to think about Montoya's work with the danza indígena community and the various ceremonies in Sacramento. The A Ver series is a single-subject monograph series that has a certain page limit. And you have to work within certain confines put forward by the editors. So there's a lot that can't be captured or falls by the wayside. It's supposed to be a primer, an introduction too.
This can be really challenging and difficult for communities, longtime communities, of these artists, because there are aspects of the artists that aren't captured in the right way or aren't captured at all. And so hopefully, what will happen is, just like with the book I wrote on the Royal Chicano Air Force, I'm already starting to read several essays that are responding to it and what the book leaves out.
And that's really the generative point of doing this work is-- recall that study from the beginning of my talk in which Rita Gonzalez, LACMA curator, makes that explicit point that of the 93 Latino/Latina artists that she searches for in the early 2003, 2001-2003 era, she can only find a handful of exhibition reviews for them. And that's in comparison to searching non-Hispanic artists of the same eras would yield thousands of entries.
And so what this tells us is that we need to generate these types of books, so that more discourse, more scholarship is created, so that when I say a name like José Montoya across the many peripheries of the nation, it resonates the same way in which I say Warhol, or Whitman, or I say these names that maybe-- I say American Gothic. Maybe we don't necessarily recognize the author, but we recognize the image, or we recognize the name. That's not out of osmosis. That's just not something that we all feel. It has to do with knowledge production.
So hopefully, a book like volume 12 of the A Ver series will create that critical turn in that energy, that energy amongst young students and young scholars. And then, the last thing I'll say is that the Chicano Studies Research Center also creates study guides. If you visit their website, they have resources, pedagogical tools, for teaching the A Ver series, so that these artists can be reintegrated, not integrated, because they were there teaching, but reintegrated into the teaching platform, so that our youth can come up with a better sense of the art that was created over the decades and all around them.
REANNA ESMAIL: Thank you for that answer. We have about five minutes left. I have one quick question, which is just if there were any recordings of Montoya's music available that people can access?
ELLA DIAZ: Oh, yeah. The other point that I make in the A Ver book at the end is I demanded that we at least have a small space where we list his online availability and some of-- Montoya is widely available via YouTube. You can actually on Latinopia hear him recite "El Louie," among several other poems. I think there's a recording of "El Sol y los de Abajo." And I'm pretty sure that you can find a recording of one of his songs with his band, Casindio.
And if you search-- I forget the name, but the Bay Area Public Radio-- when Montoya passed away, one of his adult children did a wonderful interview on Montoya. And they played several recordings of music that Montoya made where he set one of his canonical long poems, "A Pachuco Portfolio," to a bossa nova. It's just really well done. But yeah. You can find a lot of his music, and you can find his voice, which is incredible to hear simply searching Google and using YouTube.
REANNA ESMAIL: Thank you so much. And to echo all of the thanks in the chat, thank you so much for presenting your work to us and for presenting about this book. I also want to thank all of our audience members for joining us today. Books in the Stacks is a semester-long series, year-long series. So please join us again on October 14, where Professor Eswar will be sharing their newest book on the future of money.
For a full listing of the semester's Chats in the Stacks, please see the link that I'm about to post into the chat. Thank you all so much for attending, again. Have a wonderful evening. And thank you, again, for Professor Diaz. Let's all--
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Artist, poet, and musician José Montoya (1932–2013) was a leading figure of the Chicano movement, producing iconic works in many genres, cofounding the art collective Royal Chicano Air Force, and helping to organize for the United Farm Workers, while also teaching at California State University, Sacramento, and establishing the Barrio Art Program there. In a live, virtual Chats in the Stacks book talk, Ella Maria Diaz, associate professor of Latina/o Studies and Literatures in English, will discuss her recently published book on the life and work of this prominent artist, educator, and activist: José Montoya (Volume 12 of the A Ver Series, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2020). Utilizing oral histories, archival, and digital humanities research, Diaz examines Montoya’s long and diverse career while proposing a new model for the study of Latina/o/x artists who transcend boundaries between art, education, and activism. José Montoya is also a visual delight, richly illustrated with reproductions of Montoya’s art from his collections at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at UC Santa Barbara and other institutional collections. In October 2021, "On Jose Montoya" received gold awards in both the Best Art Book and Best Biography (English) categories of the International Latino Book Awards.