Esteban Villa

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Sacramento

Esteban Villa was born in 1930 in Tulare, California. He began his career as a high school teacher, but soon became a professor of art at California State University, Sacramento, where he taught for more than two decades. Professor Villa is best known for his work founding the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCFA), an iconic art collective focused on social justice during the civil rights era.  

The RCAF was described in the Sacramento Bee as “a collection of artists-turned-activists who used their words, music, and images to fight for justice and equality for farmworkers and other marginalized Americans.” The group was founded in 1969 to express the goals of the Chicano civil rights and labor organization movement of the United Farmworkers (UFW). The group’s early work and activism was in support of the United Farmworkers Union, and their art and talent inspired UFW leadership. 

The other founding members of RCAF included José Montoya, Juanishi V. Orosco, Ricardo Favela and Rudy Cuellar. The late José Montoya was also a professor of art, photography and education at Sacramento State. Over the years, Professors Villa and Montoya and other members of RCAF mentored and inspired generations of Sacramento State student artists and activists. Shortly after they started teaching at Sacramento State, Professors Villa and Montoya launched the Barrio Art Program, which connected students to opportunities to bring art to the community through service to schools and senior centers. They also launched a local program to bring arts into prisons, and created the Centro De Artistas Chicanos, which became a springboard for all types of Sacramento community programs.   

Professor Villa’s works around Sacramento are cultural landmarks and include a mural at Southside Park and more recently, a three-paneled mural dedicated in March 2018 at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. Along with the RCAF, Professor Villa is credited with making historical contributions to Chicano visual arts and Chicano identity. Through his work with RCAF and with Sacramento State students, Professor Villa helped to mobilize a generation of Mexican Americans, and their work continues to inspire Latinx students today – and all students dedicated to the pursuit of social justice. 

In recognition of his activism for equal rights, service to the Latinx community and education of empowerment through art, the California Board of Trustees and the California State University, Sacramento are proud to confirm the upon Esteban Villa the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.