Art & Culture

Local artistic community remembers Noe Montoya

"He was absolutely an incredible human being. His heart and his generosity and his true belief in La Causa will be attributes that we will remember."

BenitoLink reached out to some of Noe Montoya’s friends and El Teatro Campesino veterans following his passing on Thanksgiving Day. These are a few of their comments about their fellow actor, musician and compatriot.

Noe Montoya and Luis Valdez. Photo courtesy El Teatro Campesino
Noe Montoya and Luis Valdez. Photo courtesy El Teatro Campesino.

Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino founder (quoted by permission from his statement)

“In keeping with his artistry and wisdom with respect to our Indigenous heritage, we acknowledge that Maestro Noe has now become like the Eagle Sun of our Mayan ancestors, setting on the horizon only to become the Jaguar Night Sun in his journey across the stars. It is with faith and hope in the Universal Creator that we celebrate his trajectory through the cosmos, and look forward to the inevitable sunrise again. Ometeotl, hermano querido, descanse en paz!”

Kinan Valdez, El Teatro Campesino producing artistic director

“I loved Noe, he was like an uncle to me. As a member of the younger generation at El Teatro, Noe was one of the first veterans to give us his stamp of approval and say ‘you are doing great work.’ That was the kind of mentor he was to so many people. He gave them the gift of acknowledging the work, respecting the generations, and encouraging the new generation to come into power. I will always appreciate how he was on the travels. He was a master touring expert and his calm demeanor on the road was always great. And he could tell a hell of a joke.”

Janet Johns, founder of Esperanza del Valle

Noe Montoya with indigenous wind instrument. Photo by Robert Eliason
Noe Montoya with an indigenous wind instrument. Photo by Robert Eliason.

“I have been doing the winter shows since 1986 and Noe also played for us in our dance performances. Noe was our poet/musician. It was lovely being a danzante, a dancer, with Noe as Juan Diego because he embodied the spirit of the man. He was part of what we represent and you always felt Noe was the man himself.”

Phil Esparza, Teatro board of directors

“He was absolutely an incredible human being. His heart and his generosity and his true belief in La Causa will be attributes that we will remember. And he always said ‘yes’ whether it was large things or just small stuff for people. The way he developed himself musically was outstanding through the years. He could just sing anything. He was one of our greatest assets at El Teatro, in mind, body, and spirit.”

Milt Commons, stage manager

“Noe carved pendants out of Mexican jade and he brought in some to one performance. He told me, ‘If it is meant for you, it will turn warm in your hand.’ I picked up one and it was immediately like a little heater in my hand. Noe said, ‘It’s yours,’ and he gave it to me. I always looked forward to when Noe showed up. We had a very special bond.”

Noe Montoya and Mauricio Samano. Photo by Robert Eliason
Noe Montoya and Mauricio Samano. Photo by Robert Eliason.

 

Mauricio Samano, actor

“When I first played Juan Diego, Noe opened my eyes to the fact that what we were doing was an ofrenda, an offering, and a way to give back to the community. He taught me that the people come to see the play and they leave with love. That they live for this message of acceptance and joy. He helped me understand more about myself as a person and taught me what it meant to be humble and human.”

Flora Anderson, actor

“My feeling is we have to all take his lessons out there. Not just his knowledge but the example of the person he was, his kindness, and his willingness to share. Everything about him was extraordinary and there is no way to explain it to people who did not know him.”

Ryan Terry, Teatro production crew member

Noe Montoya and Ryan Terry. Photo by Robert Eliason
Noe Montoya and Ryan Terry. Photo by Robert Eliason.

“I hear a lot of people saying he was like an uncle, and he was with me. He would pull me aside and teach me chords and things. He had an obsession with musician Lalo Guerrero and we would sing one of his songs together, ‘Tacos for Two,’ even though I don’t sing very good.  When I was stressed out about my first child, he told me, ‘It is all going to work itself out, just let it happen and things will get easier.’ He always had a way of knowing when you needed some help or needed someone to talk to.”

David “Oso” Alvarez, Teatro production crew member

“When I first started with El Teatro, I knew Noe was a veteran but I did not know how much he was going to bring to the table. He didn’t guide us by taking us by the hand. He motivated us through his example. He made us younger members understand what we were inheriting from the tradition of El Teatro. He always remained humble, that is what really inspired me to keep pushing forward. He always had that spearhead going towards social justice and fellowship. He was the spirit of In Lak’ech (‘I am you, and you are me’).”

Stephani Candelaria, actor

Noe Montoya and Stephani Candelaria. Photo by Robert Eliason
Noe Montoya and Stephani Candelaria. Photo by Robert Eliason.

“It was an honor and a blessing to work with him. Noe lived his life very much as a leader and a poet. He was a holder of the ancestral ways. He was a teacher in the best way because you did not realize you were being taught.”

Lakin Valdez, actor and playwright

“His influence was very subtle. What he did was make you feel like an equal, that you could benefit from learning from him and he would learn from you as well. He was always open to understanding what he could learn. He always had a passion for collaborating and he always absorbed as much as he could from the people around him.”

Manuel Rocha Jr., musician

Noe Montoya and Emanuel Rocha. Photo by Robert Eliason
Noe Montoya and Manuel Rocha, Jr. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Compaletzin (Compadre)

A door will be revealed next to your temple
Someone will reveal the origins of the seven caves
With cedar smoke and indigenous ceremony
Through there
Your energy will transcend space and time
Compadre, you fly so beautifully
Hello macaw, my compadre
The macaw is my pulse, my pulse is the macaw
Go through here macaw and be filled with water
It is over the sacred ballcourt you will
Be able to sing and go with happiness and prosperity
Answer and feed future generations like
The sacred corn

 

Noe Montoya performing at a Farmworker food distribution event at San Juan Elementary School in June 2020. Video by Robert Eliason.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

How Noe Montoya came to embody the spirit of Juan Diego

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.