Royal Chicano Air Force
The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) is an artistic collective based in Sacramento. Initially named the Rebel Chicano Art Front, the RCAF was founded in 1969 to express the goals of the Chicano civil rights and labor organizing movement of the United Farm Workers. Its mission was to make available to the Chicano community a bilingual/bicultural arts center where artists could come together, exchange ideas, provide mutual support, and make available to the public artistic, cultural, and educational programs and events.
The founding members of the RCAF include José Montoya, Esteban Villa, Juanishi V. Orosco, Ricardo Favela, and Rudy Cuellar. Montoya and Villa knew of each other through their involvement in the Mexican American Liberation Art Front and the California College of Arts and Crafts. During the Chicano Movement students pressured colleges and universities to diversify their faculties. As a result, Montoya and Villa were hired as professors of art at California State University, Sacramento. Their academic positions gave them the creative freedom to initiate programmatic exchanges between the university and the barrio community. Through this effort they initiated many programs including the Barrio Art Program, which required university students to go out into the community including senior centers to teach art courses.
The RCAF created in 1972 the non-profit Centro De Artistas Chicanos. This community-based organization became the spring-board for all types of Sacramento community programs, such as La Nueva Raza Bookstore (with its Galería Posada), Aeronaves de Aztlán (Automotive Repair Garage), RCAF Danzantes (Cultural Dance venue), Barrio Art Program, and the RCAF Graphics and Design Center. By 1977, the Centro de Artistas Chicanos and Breakfast for Niños Program (a community non-profit program that fed children before school) joined forces to create the Cultural Affairs Project, which further funded their many community services.
The RCAF is best known for its mural paintings, poster art production, and individual artistic contributions. The artists of the Centro have produced murals and exhibitions from San Diego to Seattle. RCAF is significant as a collective that has maintained a twenty-five year history of engaging communities to express their Chicano culture, history and struggle for equal rights.
While the "RCAF" originally stood for the Rebel Chicano Art Front, people confused the letters with the acronym for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Montoya and his fellow officers capitalized on the misunderstanding, and in good humor adopted the name Royal Chicano Air Force. This new identity found its way into their wardrobe, as well as their highly successful silk-screen poster program, which began to disseminate the World War I aviator and barnstorming bi-winged planes as icons. The RCAF gained a well-deserved reputation for outrageous humor, fine art posters, murals, and community activism. Their pioneering spirit throughout the 1970s and early 1980s was well known in the California Chicano community, and continues to the present.