The History of the RCAF
In late sixties at California State University at Sacramento Esteban Villa, José Montoya and Juan Carrillo were part of the Mexican American Education project that was a aimed at bringing practicing teachers to the campus to work towards a Masters Degree. After completing the graduate degree program, Villa and Montoya went on to become faculty in the art department. Carrillo moved to on to a teaching position at Cosumnes River College.
The stage was set on the university campus for Villa and Montoya to influence a new wave of young art students. The result was the formation of the Rebel Chicano Art Front, soon to be known as the Royal Chicano Air Force…the RCAF. Within a year, the squadron was a full unit of artist pilots, ready to do service for the community and to put their artistic resources to use as educational and organizing tools.
Ricardo Favela, Juanishi Orosco, Rudy Cuellar, Hector González, Juan Cervantes, Armando Cid, Celia Rodríguez, and many others began to put into community practice, the things they were learning on campus. Other artists such as Stan Padilla, Lorraine García Nakata, Kathryn García, Louie “the Foot” Gonzalez, Max Garcia, Philip Santos, the late Eva Garcia and others were drawn in to lend their efforts to La Causa. Government Professor Joe Serna added a layer of political astuteness and along with José Montoya, they used their connections to César Chávez and the United Farmworkers to give meaning to artist-led efforts to make an impact beyond the art.
The making of posters, murals, drawings and the willingness to march, picket, walk precincts and make lawn signs, banners, bumper stickers, flags and arm bands integrated the artists into the community of activists. The artists worked day and night producing hundreds of editions of posters to promote community events and larger causes. At the same time, large wall murals were produced here in Sacramento as well as in other cities and states.
After 38 years, the RCAF continues to act on its principles. Its work is in collections of universities in the U.S. and Europe. The impact has been felt in Mexico, France, Germany, Brazil and throughout the United States. In almost any art circle, Sacramento’s RCAF is known—for their humor as well as their art. The RCAF is a model for many collectives. Few, if any, have lasted as long, continually producing art and service to the community. Its members have been university, college and high school teachers, journalists, curators, prison art and education administrators, public art producers, recipients of awards from a great variety of sources, staff members of the California Arts Council and the Sacramento Arts Commission, foundation executives, directors of museums, and independent artists. Their impact on the world around them is incalculable.
They remain friends and colleagues, and continue to dedicate themselves to the struggle for social justice.