Local arts icon dies from Covid-19

Noe Montoya performed for El Teatro Campesino

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Noe Montoya, a long-time actor and musician for El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, passed away on Nov. 26 at his home in Hollister. He was 66 years old. Photo: file photo

Noe Montoya, a long-time actor and musician for El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, passed away on Nov. 26 at his home in Hollister. He was 66 years old. 

El Teatro Campesino founder and artistic director Luis Valdez wrote on the group’s Facebook page, “The Eagle Sun has set on the horizon on this Thanksgiving Day. It is with immense sadness that we share the incredible news that our Chicano maestro in the struggle, brother Noe Montoya, has tragically succumbed to the coronavirus.”

“To all of his extended family in El Teatro Campesino, bereft of a beloved fifty-year member, his shocking loss is incalculable and beyond belief.”

Montoya was born in San Juan, Texas and lived in Hollister for many years. He is survived by his mother, Lonina Montoya and his sister, Victoria Montoya both of Hollister.

Valdez expressed on Facebook that “the Covid-19 pandemic has been merciless to an extreme, especially among farmworkers, so it comes as no surprise that despite the risk, Noe did his utmost to alleviate the suffering of our fellow campesinos, continuing to make appearances to sing at car caravans organized to raise food for the workers. His great heart was always at the core of his humanity and commitment to our community.”

Valdez shared that Montoya joined the company as a teenage recruit in 1971. He became the maestro of indigenous music and took on plenty of roles on stage, video and film as a company actor. 

In 1972, Montoya performed as Tonatiuh, the Aztec Sun, in the company’s first television special in Los Angeles. From the 1970s to 2008, he often reprised the role of Juan Diego in their biennial production of “La Virgen del Tepeyac” at the Old Mission San Juan Bautista. 

He played in his final role last year just before the pandemic hit as Benito Juarez in the world premiere of “Adios Mama Carlota” at the San Jose Stage Company. 

“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 sun rise again,” Valdez said.