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Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force

Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force
Mapping a Chicano/a Art History

The first book-length study of the Royal Chicano Air Force maps the history of this vanguard Chicano/a arts collective, which used art and cultural production as sociopolitical activism.

April 2017
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366 pages | 6 x 9 | Hardcover is a library cloth edition, no dust jacket | 30 color and 62 b&w photos |

The Royal Chicano Air Force produced major works of visual art, poetry, prose, music, and performance during the second half of the twentieth century and first decades of the twenty-first. Materializing in Sacramento, California, in 1969 and established between 1970 and 1972, the RCAF helped redefine the meaning of artistic production and artwork to include community engagement projects such as breakfast programs, community art classes, and political and labor activism. The collective’s work has contributed significantly both to Chicano/a civil rights activism and to Chicano/a art history, literature, and culture.

Blending RCAF members’ biographies and accounts of their artistic production with art historical, cultural, and literary scholarship, Flying under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force is the first in-depth study of this vanguard Chicano/a arts collective and activist group. Ella Maria Diaz investigates how the RCAF questioned and countered conventions of Western art, from the canon taught in US institutions to Mexican national art history, while advancing a Chicano/a historical consciousness in the cultural borderlands. In particular, she demonstrates how women significantly contributed to the collective’s output, navigating and challenging the overarching patriarchal cultural norms of the Chicano Movement and their manifestations in the RCAF. Diaz also shows how the RCAF’s verbal and visual architecture—a literal and figurative construction of Chicano/a signs, symbols, and texts—established the groundwork for numerous theoretical interventions made by key scholars in the 1990s and the twenty-first century.


National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies' 2019 Book Award

  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface: A Flight Formation
  • Introduction: Mapping the Chicano/a Art History of the Royal Chicano Air Force
  • Chapter 1. Building a Verbal-Visual Architecture: The RCAF’s New World Mestizo/a Art
  • Chapter 2. Performing La Mujer Nueva: Chicana “Art Work” in the RCAF
  • Chapter 3. Heroic Foundations: Chicano/a Heroes in Family, Farmwork, and War
  • Chapter 4. Between the Aesthetic and the Instrumental: Free Association, Collectivism, and Making Space for Chicano/a Art
  • Chapter 5. From Front to Force: The RCAF’s Air Force Persona and the Performance of an Archive
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

ELLA MARIA DIAZIthaca, New YorkDiaz is an assistant professor of English and Latino/a Studies at Cornell University. She has published in Aztlán: The Journal of Chicano Studies, Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, and U.C. Santa Barbara’s Imaginarte e-publications.


“Essential to ethnic studies and a provocative addition to American literature and art history curricula, Diaz’s book lays the groundwork for future research on collectives whose social engagement produces rich text-image environments.”
Latinx Studies

“A work of meticulous and rigorous scholarship! This book offers numerous original intellectual paradigms that can help scholars and students alike to think about the Royal Chicano Air Force and also about the work of other artists of color who engage in activist praxes through creative expression. Community artists, activists, and individuals seeking to learn about socially engaged and politically driven art will gain much from Ella Maria Diaz’s unique vision of the RCAF.”
Guisela Latorre, Ohio State University, author of Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

“A well-researched, innovative, and potentially groundbreaking contribution to the scholarship on Chicano/a and Latino/a art.”
Colin Gunckel, University of Michigan, author of Mexico on Main Street: Transnational Film Culture in Los Angeles before World War II


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca