Friday, September 09, 2016

Maceo Montoya Paints and Writes Chicano Cultura: An Interview

Melinda Palacio

Maceo Montoya

La Bloga: 
Maceo Montoya, professor, painter, and author sits down with La Bloga. Gracias, Maceo for taking time out of your busy schedule.You've published poetry, fiction, and essays. You are well known for your art and murals. Tells us about the writing and publishing of the Chicano Movement for Beginners. What was the writing journey like? Did this book come out of questions that arose in your classes as an assistant professor in Chicano Studies at UC Davis?

Maceo Montoya's new book, Chicano Movement for Beginners

Maceo Montoya 
I received an email out of the blue from the press For Beginners asking if I was interested in writing and illustrating a book on the Chicano Movement. At first I was reluctant because I’m not a historian and I knew that it would require significant research. But at the same time, I was intrigued by the possibilities of combining graphics and text. There was also this other pull, though, which was this idea that if I don’t do it, someone else will, and what if that person doesn’t do it right? I guess you could say that I felt a certain responsibility. I inhabit a unique position. My uncle José Montoya and my father Malaquias Montoya came of age in the Chicano Movement, they found their voices as artists, as activists, as educators. Unlike many people who only encounter the term Chicano when they get to college, I was raised Chicano. I’ve been thinking of the term and its implications my entire life. So for me the Chicano Movement isn’t some distant era; it continues to reverberate. I gave myself over to this project when I decided that rather than approach this history as an objective scholar, I had to be what I was: a son sorting through a complicated family past.

La Bloga:
You've also recently had a novella and story collection published, You Must Fight Them (University of New Mexico Press 2015). Tell us about your time management skills and how is that you manage to produce so much in addition to your teaching schedule?

Montoya's recent novella, You Must Fight Them. He also illustrated this compelling cover.

I feel immense pressure to produce and the time I have is never enough. The pressure is hardwired in me. I don’t know where else it comes from. I know that quantity doesn’t matter, but unless I’m making something, creating something, I’m miserable. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. Fortunately, I’m a pleasant miserable, and I still offer to help friends move or help my parents out in the yard. I love being an artist. I come from a family of artists, but I’ve never taken it for granted. It’s a gift, a don. To me, it’s the most wonderful way of existing in the world, and yet the angst – the angst! - I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

La Bloga:
Your writing and painting are intimately involved in portraying your community. How do your books compliment your role as Chicano Studies professor?

I approach my teaching as a practitioner. Whether it’s a course on Chicana/o Culture, the Chicana/o Novel, or my mural workshop, I’m interested in how something is made, how its individual pieces function to create a whole. When I first started, I was very nervous about teaching the Chicana/o Novel because I was coming across all these dense articles steeped in theory. Here I was a novelist and these scholars were writing about novels, and yet I couldn’t recognize what I did in what they were saying. I mentioned this to my colleague Angie Chabram, a legendary cultural theorist, and she said, “To tell you the truth, I wish I could unlearn all my theory.” That was what I needed to hear. She gave me the green light to approach literature in the classroom at its most fundamental. Stories are essential to our lives, they move us, motivate us, and alter our thinking. We’re all storytellers and have the tools to dissect the stories around us. Need it be more complicated?

As far as community, the majority of my students are Chicano/Latino and most of them enter the classroom never having read a Chicano novel, short story, or poem (maybe The House on Mango Street). It shouldn’t be this way, of course, but I realize that I might be the only class on Chicano literature that they take in their educational careers. I try my best to make it count.

La Bloga:
You recently sold the movie rights to The Deportation of Wopper Barraza. Can you tell us more about who will be producing the film? And how this deal came about? Do you think the current debate on immigration helped fuel interest in your book as a movie?

Montoya's the Deportation of Wopper Barraza, recently optioned as a film.

I think the industry term is “optioned the rights,” so nothing has been sold yet, but it’s very exciting news. Campanario Entertainment is a young company that seeks to produce high-quality Latino content with crossover appeal. We’re actually not sure whether it’ll be a movie or a series, or some other format. As far as the current debate on immigration and its overlap with my novel, I think I would’ve been hesitant if Campanario’s response to the novel was, “This is a great book on immigration, let’s do something with it.” Yes, they were drawn to the unique tale of immigration in reverse, but what most attracted them were the characters. As an artist, you’re always protective of what you create, it’s hard to let go, but when someone else believes that the characters you created are as real as you know them to be, well, then that’s a good base to start from.

La Bloga:
Gracias, Maceo. Is there anything else you'd like to tell La Bloga?

I know this is a forum for Latino literature, so it’s a good opportunity to reach out. I always like to feature guest artists and writers in my classes. The students love it because it gives them a break from me, but also because it’s such a rare opportunity to get to meet (even via Skype) the creator of a work they’re studying. In past classes, I’ve featured you, Melinda, as well as Daniel A. Olivas, Daniel Chacón, Tim Z. Hernandez, Barbara Renaud González, Norma Cantú, Richard Yañez, Rigoberto González, Stephen D. Gutierrez, Manuel Paul Lopez, Isabel Quintero, Javier O. Huerta, Joseph Rios, Laurie Ann Guerrero, David Dominguez, David Campos, Juan Carillo, Lucha Corpi, and Xochiquetzal Candelaria amongst others. It’s a class so the funding is rarely there, but I can promise book buyers and a receptive audience hungry for literature that resonates. If anyone is interested, send me an email at

Two weeks ago, La Bloga interviewed Reyna Grande. Meet Reyna and Maceo this month in Sacramento at the Mosaic of Voices Reading Series, September 25 from 3-4 at the Avid Reader. Also, Reyna has a fundraiser in Los Angeles for Hola tomorrow, September 10. 

Also in Los Angeles tomorrow, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes is hosting a poetry reading inspired by Ernesto Yerena's work, September 10 at 7pm, featuring Gloria E. Alvarez, Olivia Chumacero, and Yosimar Reyes. For more information about this free event, see

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