The famous Salvador Dali once said, “a true artist is not one who is inspired but one who inspires others.” There are many inspirational local artists in the Las Cruces/El Paso region. One of those inspirational artists is José Montoya. The team at Empowerment Congress has the privilege to work and collaborate with Mr. Montoya for our DescolonizArte! Program. As a queer Chicano/x artist and educator, Mr. Montoya has had to overcome many odds and obstacles. His life’s reality is what fuels and drives his passion and makes his art personal and unique.

Mr. Montoya was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and now resides in El Paso. To Mr. Montoya, the Chihuahuan Desert is his ancestral homeland. His family roots spread across both lands. Mr. Montoya grew up in a hard working-class family, and he is the youngest of five. The Southwestern/borderland region is an ideal habitat for racism, classism, and machismo ideologies to breed; growing up, Mr. Montoya experienced and witnessed these things. There was one outlet Mr. Montoya utilized to filter out this toxic environment, and that was art. He would lock himself in his room and draw while listening to music.

First stages of the La Casa mural being painted

Montoya has quite an impressive education. He earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from New Mexico State University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, also from New Mexico State University. He also was awarded a College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Graduate Award for Excellence from NMSU. Although Montoya didn’t take the traditional route of many artists, going to college and studying art, he knew that art was a passion he had to pursue. No matter what Mr. Montoya did, his work always involved art. After graduating with a bachelor’s, he moved to Denver and worked for a non-profit that assisted formerly incarcerated people and supported their journey back into society. While working here, he dove into the scene of Chicanx art. Montoya also volunteered at Metro Denver Partners; here, he gave art workshops to inner-city youth and mentored them.

Eventually, being away from home began to take its effects on Mr. Montoya, and with the cartel violence dominating Juarez at the time, he knew he had to move back home. Mr. Montoya got a job at NMSU in the College Assistance Migrant Program. He spent a decade here assisting “farm-working families to ensure their children had access to higher ed.” During this time is when Mr. Montoya completed his master’s degree. Through the years he excelled at his job at NMSU and eventually was able to get a director’s position at UTEP. Although the experience at UTEP was not pleasant, Mr. Montoya understood that planning for the future was in order. In these years Mr. Montoya gained the knowledge of organizing youth, social justice, and excelled in feminist and qualitative research methods. All traits and expertise he has transferred into his artistic, activist, and teaching career today.

A few years later, Mr. Montoya decided to take a leap of faith and dive fully into his artwork. Like many, Mr. Montoya was a struggling artist. He was looking for that balance of financial stability and the stability of his artistic freedom. Finding the balance to this scale was tough. Montoya said that his opportunities were not just given to him, but opportunities that he worked hard for, and he has designed all his artwork on a limited budget.

Early stage of La Casa mural

Along with his love of creating art, Montoya also has a passion for activism. This is evident in his course of study in college as a criminal justice student. Mr. Montoya has an effortless and breathtaking way of expressing critical social issues in his art. One example of this is his small murals and sidewalk art he helped create in the Duranguito neighborhood in El Paso. The art was a way to beautify the area and express the residents’ disapproval of the ongoing gentrification and effort to displace the lifetime residents to build a proposed arena. He has recently given lectures and talks ranging from how we can strategize and thriving during COVID, borderland issues, LGBTQ+, anti-white supremacy, feminism, decolonization, and much more. Mr. Montoya gives these talks and lectures at community colleges and colleges, events, and conferences.

His passion for activism and art led him to the Empowerment Congress as the lead artist for our youth program, DescolonizARTE! Our program revolves around engaging local youth to learn and understand social issues and how they can use art as a form of activism. Mr. Montoya works with our youth coordinator, facilitates social justice workshops for the youth, and teaches them different art techniques and concepts. The DescolonizARTE! 2020 program was very successful despite the challenges of the pandemic. Mr. Montoya has been working on a mural that will be displayed on La Casa’s wall in Anthony, New Mexico. This mural will encapsulate the artwork of the students from the 2020 DescolonizARTE! Program.

We here at Empowerment Congress are very fortunate to have Mr. Montoya collaborate with our team. We look forward to future projects and programs with Mr. Montoya.

Mr. Montoya is not only an artist and educator. He is also an entrepreneur. He sells his original artwork on his website, does photography and freelance writing services. You can visit his website, find more information, and purchase one of his unique pieces of art and merch. Support our local artists and their business!

Instagram: @el_hedonista
Facebook: artedemontoya