As a few of us choose go on break from HARRIET (I’m off to the homeland to see my carnal, Texaco Alex), I’d like to end the year with this shout out because Montoya dedicated it “To Rigoberto De Michoacán.”
It’s “joda,” with a strong J, as in “joder,” as in“chingar,” as in “twenty years of struggle,” as in “twenty years of fighting back.” This collection, commemorating two decades worth of work by Chicano poet José Montoya, one of the writers who pioneered the use of Caló and code-switching in American poetry, was published in 1992 by Chusma House Publications. It includes a portfolio with representations of Pachucas y Pachucos, Cholas y Cholos, Chicanas y Chicanos and other images reflecting a vato’s worldview. “I chose to include ’em,” Montoya explains in his preface, “because they were done in el mismo espíritu that the poems were written in.” One of his watercolors graces the cover.

The book also includes lyrics to songs and corridos, many of which are performed by Montoya’s musical group Trío Casindio. (El vato always busts out with the guitar at his readings.) But the true engines in the book are his poems, many of which have become classics of Chicano letters, like “El Louie,” an all-attitude urban elegy. “Hoy enterraron al Louie,” the poem begins and then his resurrection through memory:
Era de Fowler el vato,
Carnal del Candi y el
Ponchi—Los Rodríguez—
The Westside knew ’em,
And Selma, even Gilroy.
’48 Fleetline, two-tone—
Buenas garras and always
Rucas—como La Mary y
La Helen…siempre con
Liras bien afinadas
Cantando La Palma, la
Que andaba en el florero.
The celebrated poem “The Movement Has Gone For It’s Ph.D Over at the University or, The Gang Wars Are Back,” begins with the queries:
What has happened to the Movement, camarada?
What has happened to la causa y the guns?
All those vatos de proposals y programas
Federales, dónde están?
Qué pasó con EOP and education
weren’t we going to build a nation
called Aztlán?
And the answer is written, not on the graffitied walls, but in the halls of academia, where the MECHistas are at risk of assimilation and complacency if they don’t hold on to their political consciousness. One of the Chicano Movement’s main preoccupations (besides the Vietnam War, besides better working wages and living conditions) was better education for the young, but a leap forward didn’t have to mean a leap out of the community that had reared them. Respeto y amor siempre, raza, aunque de lejos. No sean prendejos y regresen a sus casas (through your literary work). C/S
Hence why Montoya, like many veteran performers and artists, are concerned with preservation of history and memory, through art, song, poetry, plays. (José Montoya, by the way, is the brother of renown artist Malaquías Montoya, and uncle to the late poet Andrés Montoya, and to the talented photographer Delilah Montoya—a dynasty indeed!) The following are the opening stanzas to the corrido “Los Huelguistas”:
The yeas was ’73
A time we’ll always remember
And in the harvest of shame
The Union never surrendered
Año del ’73
Presente lo tengo yo
De aquella infame cosecha
Y el triunfo de nuestra Unión
Of course, not everything is politics and protests, there’s always room for barrio humor in the work of Montoya, like in the poem with the tongue-in-cheek title “Una Lágrima Por Tu Amor”:
She turned slowly, and said,
“Estoy aquí pistiando—Porque
me gusta!—What did you expect,
a sad story?”
Pos I’m Sorry!

Originally Published: December 20th, 2007

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006); Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He...

  1. December 25, 2007

    also, jose montoya is the father of actor & satyrist richard montoya of culture clash fame. thanks for posting about this firme book, ese.

  2. December 29, 2007

    That's correct, esa. Richard Montoya (for the curious) is the actor who played Jack Black's wrestling buddy in the movie NACHO LIBRE. But his best work is with CULTURE CLASH, which pokes fun at everything from politics to Chicano culture. Their work is available in both video and print.

  3. July 12, 2008
     Carlos Cumpian

    Really raza gracias for posting the genius work of one of the first wave Chicanos to blend arte y poetry, I personally sold over 30 copies of this book when it first was published. The majority of poetry readers wouldn't even get a chance to see this collection due to the difficultly of bookstores NOT carrying the VAST majority of Chicana/o poetry. The fact is Montoya's work sings if you're bilingual English and Spanish, otherwise, it is all CALO, and most folks won't get that as well.
    Jose Montoya is an American original, que viva el carnal en Califas. Chicano lit is ment for the America of 2050 when there will be (if there is an earth) mas bilingual.