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José Montoya: 1932—: Artist, Educator, Writer

Discovered A Facility With Words

Montoya's mother wanted her son to finish high school, but left the choice to him. "I decided to stay in school and work after school and weekends to help the family," he explained to Malaspina. His mother worked hard, and later went on welfare, so that her children could remain enrolled at Fowler High School. Montoya's English teacher, Adrian Sanford, recognized the young man's talent and urged Montoya to continue with his literary and artistic pursuits. An essay that Montoya wrote about his father's humiliation in prison, where he had to be cleaned of lice, elicited particular praise from Sanford. In 1951 Montoya graduated from high school—the first member of his family to do so.

As a young man Montoya was drawn to the street culture of Fresno, where Chicano pachucos or "gangs" held sway. He was arrested a few times for fighting. After his second arrest, he was given a choice between joining the Marine Corps or being assigned to a road crew. Montoya chose the Marines. But the Marine Corps refused to take him because of a tattoo that identified him as a gang member. He changed the tattoo into the shape of an anchor, and was allowed to join the Navy. From 1951 to 1955, during the Korean War, he served on a minesweeper. At the same time, he continued to read widely, particularly admiring the books of John Steinbeck.

After his stint in the Navy, Montoya settled in San Diego with his first wife, Mary Prieto. He attended San Diego City College at night under the GI Bill while working at a window company during the day. He earned an associate of arts degree in 1956, then received a scholarship from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where he obtained a B.A. in fine arts. Montoya stayed an extra year to earn teaching credentials, and in 1963 began teaching at Wheatland High School in Wheatland, California.

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