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Chicano artist Xavier Montes founded and taught art and music courses for children, and worked with adolescents at risk. Via The Fillmore Gazette.
Chicano artist Xavier Montes founded and taught art and music courses for children, and worked with adolescents at risk. Via The Fillmore Gazette.

The last arpeggio of Xavier Montes, the "big" wise man of Santa Paula's Chicano culture

The musician, painter and renowned promoter of Latino culture in California died at 67 after a long illness.

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A musician from childhood who sang himself to sleep. This is how Xavier Montes, known as "Big X", whose passion for music and art left a great impression on generations of Latinos, used to describe himself. He died last Thursday after a long illness at the age of 67. 

His friends and family remember how this global artist, raised by his aunt in Santa Paula, in the citrus heart of California, loved rock music and played the guitar from a young age. But if there's one tune for every person, his was the harp, which he discovered while living in Santa Barbara, where he graduated from art school.

A folk harp, of course, from the region of Veracruz, Mexico, which he played for almost seven decades and with which he released three albums. The most recent one is titled "Amor, Amor" (Love, Love), which is the emotion he provoked when you would see him go on stage with his unmistakable "guayabera" and Panamanian hat.

"I'm going to miss him a lot. I like to think that he was a member of the family," artist Lorenzo 'Lecho' Moraza told VC Star.

Moraza met Montes when they played in Chicano bands like Conjunto de los Perros in the mid-'70s. They sang songs about peasant struggles, ballads, corridos and "jorachos," the typical music of Veracruz. 

"He showed us how to feel our hearts, see our true faces and express our soul"

Painting was also a passion for him. A true Chicano artist whose works he portrayed the Mexico of the farmers and the traditional musicians, combined with Aztec images and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Generous and committed to his people, the "Big X" worked in a community library, founded and taught art and music courses for children, and worked with at-risk teenagers. 

From this period of intense social activity came a mural in Chino's Market in Santa Paula, as well as De Colores Art Show, which he founded in 1994 and whose works are inspired by artists such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez. 

"He was a free spirit," said his daughter, Anica Walls. "I think that was his passion: to give of himself to make the world a better place." Walls recalled her father's simple life, his dedication, his energy and the enthusiasm and love he managed to spread through art and music. That's why he was honored with Latin Leadership Awards and was even named Citizen of the Year in 2004 by the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce. 

For Jennifer Heighton, executive director of the Santa Paula Museum of Art, which houses the De Colores Collection founded by Xavier Montes, "he was an incredible artist, musician, curator, and mentor." Heighton also highlighted his work with young people, helping them develop their skills.

"In his studio at De Colores he taught students not only to play music but also to appreciate culture," she said.

His ability to bring talent to Santa Paula and create links with Los Angeles and "the entire Southwest" enshrined De Colores as an extraordinary musical and artistic event in the region, hosting exhibitions for two decades. 

Perhaps the person who best defined its spirit -like a torch- was Javier Gómez, the artistic director of the Inlachek Arts Center in Oxnard, who called it "tlamatini," a Nahuatl term meaning "wise man".

"He showed us how to feel our hearts, see our true faces and express our soul," Gomez concluded. 

That's what an artist does.

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