Diaz's new book examines the work of José Montoya

By: Marti Dense,  Latina/o Studies
November 2, 2020

Latina/o Studies and English professor Ella Maria Diaz examines the life and work of the vanguard Chicano artist, poet, educator, and activist, José Montoya, in her new book with UCLA’s Chicana/o Studies Research Center’s A Ver: Revisioning Art History, a series published through University of Minnesota Press. In Spanish, “a ver” means, “let’s see,” and this widely regarded series of single-subject monographs has produced award-winning scholarship on largely absent twentieth century U.S. Latinx artists from American art history.

Montoya (1932–2013) was a leading figure in bilingual and bicultural expression drawn from barrio life as a defining feature of U.S. culture and his life and work accounts for historical change amid world wars, the counter culture and rise of the civil rights movements. As an artist, poet, and musician, he produced iconic works depicting pachuco and pachuca culture based on his own experiences as a youth after World War II, for example. Montoya co-founded the art collective, Royal Chicano Air Force in the 1970s and helped organize for the United Farm Workers. An influential educator, he established the Barrio Art Program in the early 1970s, and taught at California State University, Sacramento, for over 20 years.

Diaz examines Montoya’s remarkable career that traversed decades, languages, media, and genres. The book is illustrated with reproductions of Montoya’s art from rarely seen archival slides and documents from his prolific collection at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at UC Santa Barbara. A significant contribution to digital humanities work, Diaz’s study weaves oral histories and archival research with images available online, proposing a new model for the study of U.S. Latina/o/x artists who reject the boundaries between visual art, poetry, music, education, and community activism.

Translating Chicana/o/x lives into scholarly texts for publication is never an easy task, however; and Diaz chronicles her personal experiences with copy editing and the politics of Chicana/o/x voice in a recent blog for Cornell’s Diacritics journal.

Diaz is an associate professor and teaches in the Department of English and Latina/o Studies at Cornell University. In addition to “Flying Under the Radar,” Diaz has published in several anthologies as well as articles with Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Chicana-Latina Studies Journal and ASAP/Journal. She received her PhD in May 2010 from the College of William and Mary in American Studies and began at Cornell in 2012, after serving as a longtime lecturer at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Pre-orders of the book are available here.

For related stories regarding Diaz’s work visit:

diaz book cover