The Royal Chicano Air Force | Not in Our Town

The Royal Chicano Air Force

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)


The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) is an artistic collective based in Sacramento, California.  It 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.

While "RCAF" originally stood for the Rebel Chicano Art Front, people confused the letters with the acronym for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Founding member José 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.

This lesson addresses the following Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies. You can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves

  • Self-awareness: The RCAF saw their purpose as one of education and political activism. Founded by Chicano/Latino people, it was used as a vehicle to connect its own community members to the forces that oppressed them. As a collective they facilitated self-awareness through artistic activism.
  • Self-Management: The RCAF used humour and outlandishness to gain more attention for their causes. These strategies were very effective at that time in history.
  • Relationship Skills: The RCAF was a space for artists to come together, to exchange ideas, to network and provide mutual support.
  • Social awareness: The RCAF began an artistic movement, which then became a jumping-off point for other educational initiatives. In this way the RCAF opened doors for others and for greater social awareness.  
  • Responsible decision-making: The RCAF chose artistic operations that were portable, efficient and produced attention-grabbing products.

1.  Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • What are boycotts? What are some things that people boycott and why?
  • What are labor unions? Do you know anyone who is a member of a labor union? Why do workers need unions?
  • Do you encounter any works of public art in your neighborhood or community? How do they affect you?

2.  After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt.):

  • How did the RCAF use humour to achieve their ends?
  • What was the RCAF’s connection to labor movements at that time?
  • What was the reason that Jose Montoya wanted to keep the illusion that they had an air force? Why did they incorporate this idea into their movement and go to protests in World War I paraphernalia?  How do you think it might have helped and hindered their movement?
  • What sort of activities did the RCAF engage in to effect social change? Reflect on the activities you think were most effective and why.

Extension Activities

  1. Have students research more about the RCAF. Examine: How did they organize themselves in the beginning of their movement? Where did they hold meetings? Look specifically at all of the fundraising activities they had in order to support themselves. What experiences have the students had with fundraising for a cause? Have them report back to the class. Extra credit activity: Find a cause you care about and organize a creative fundraising event for it.
  2. Check out this art teacher’s blog post on “Activism through Stencils”. She lists the materials necessary for students to create stencils, and the process involved. Have students make stencils that represent social issues (racism, poverty, inequality). Students can stencil positive logos, inspirational quotes about social change, or images of their social heroes.
  3. Break students up into groups of 3 or 4 to research the history of the American Labor Movement and create a comic strip depicting many of the events from the 20th and 21st century.



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