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Remembering the life of Royal Chicano Air Force founder Esteban Villa

Esteban Villa was commonly referred to as 'el profe' for his instrumental teachings and time as a professor.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Esteban Villa, a beloved activist in the Chicano community and founding member of the Royal Chicano Air Force, died on May 15 at the age of 91. Now, community members are remembering and honoring his legacy.

The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) was an artistic collective established in the early 1970s that helped push for social change through prints, murals and photography. In its very beginnings, members worked closely with civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America to help improve working conditions for farm workers.  

"I think the Royal Chicano Air Force was created to meet the needs or the demands that the civil rights movement was demanding or putting on people of color," Lott said.

Through murals, the RCAF was able to engage communities to express their Chicano culture fight for equal rights. Lott said murals continue to play a significant role in capturing the history of the Chicano community. 

"The way that the Chicano community used (murals) was a way to transmit information, to inform, to educate and to beautify," Lott said.

Lott said Villa was one of the first people he ever met when he moved to Sacramento and attended Sacramento State. He recalled their relationship a "perfect match." 

"We spoke the same language and our same interest was for art. So, I immediately gravitated towards him," Lott said. 

Villa was a high school teacher for 10 years before he joined the Sacramento State faculty, according to an article by Sac State. He taught for 25 years before retiring from the university in 1995. 

Despite his leave from teaching, Lott said the opportunities to learn from Villa never stopped. Lott recalled his own time as one of Villa's students. 

"I learned something that I didn't learn in school from Esteban, which is how to go about pricing artworks, which is more the business element of the arts," Lott said. 

Credit: Jose Lott
Jose Lott, a local community artist and muralist, paints a portrait of Esteban Villa.

Even after retirement, Villa continued to attend community events and teach others. Lott said even during his time as Villa's student, most of his interactions with Villa were outside the classroom at political rallies. Many referred to Villa as 'el profe,' which means 'professor' in Spanish. 

"If you talk to people who knew Esteban, people are going to tell you two main things. One is that, likely, Esteban did a little sketch portrait of them," Lott said. "Esteban offered some kind of advice to them, especially artists and poets."

Lott said Villa's legacy is everlasting. 

"Esteban is el profe... forever." 

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