Youth of color deserve to see engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, creators, and makers of color!
Learning in the Making: Live! invites guest hosts of color on as equal and valued partners and collaborators, so that they can tell their stories and showcase the amazing things they are making and doing! In this series, we interview our guest hosts to learn a little bit more about them.
Maker Ed chats with Jake Montano: a lover, fighter, spirited learner, and guest host on Learning in the Making: Everyone Loves Puppets!
Tell us a bit more about yourself…
A pleasure and honor to be featured on the blog!
My name is Romulo Jake Montano II, but most folks know me as Jake or as R.J. My name has been a form of play and experimentation in self-expression, which is most certainly a thread that runs through my life, identity, and work, and for me it’s been part of a journey of personhood and heritage. My name was given to me by my father who shares it, and as a first-gen Pinoy kid growing up in Dallas and then in the Central Valley in California, my first name was contentious for me as I tried to fit in. I love my full name and each part of it now, and am just awaiting a milestone moment to fully embody it and wear it for others.
I like to use this phrase to describe myself: a lover, fighter, and spirited learner living in the Bay Area. My work is in informal education, making, and community building, my love is for the arts and the vastness of queerdom and diaspora, my sign is sagittarius, and my favorite genre of music is disco. Lots of these things I pour into the other half of my identity, whose name is Imelda Glucose, and she is the persona and vehicle for much of my creativity as a drag performer with my loves and drag family The Rice Rockettes. Special shout-out to them for their dynamism and vibrancy; they give me life.
What’s one thing about yourself that you think is important for others to know?
Fabulous question. If there’s one principle I’ve held highest in my life that has stretched widest across the realms of what I do, it’s that I view myself as being in service of a future world that feels connected, sustainable, vivid with culture and diversity, and I aim to contribute to that project aggressively and without ego. I’m continuing to evolve in my advocacy work, as an anti-racist, as an active dismantler of white supremacy, of homophobia and transphobia, of misogyny and ableism, because they are all part of that, especially in my work with youth as a maker and designer.
What excites you most about your work?
Learning about the connections between the choices we make and the places we come from or have walked.
People are still the most exciting part of my work, though I do regularly lose hours upon hours on projects or doodles or in the kitchen or at my desk. As a kid I was always looking (up) at people, and that hasn’t changed even though my height has. I’m not trained in education except through being a practitioner. I studied ethnography and visual media when I was younger, and I continue to be in awe of how our choices and self-perceptions can be so deeply molded by influences in our lives. I love cooking now not because I grew up in a household where the food was fantastic, my dad experimented maybe a bit too extremely, but because I saw his love for cooking even when the outcome was inedible and that unlocked my own freedom to play with ingredients and utensils. It’s important to me to give credence to these significant figures and these significant experiences for young people, because they exist and they can wield so much power for us if we build connections to them.
Why do you make?
Because if I start opening my mouth, I’ll never stop talking. Making things and experimenting with tools and materials is an irresistible way to share and express in such rich and inviting ways without having to say anything at all. I found my voice first through making and tinkering, and my figurative voice later on, and now I’m constantly tired but loving my journey.
What dreams do you have for young people?
That they inherit a world that possesses more possibility than it did for their forebears, and gives value to whatever they choose to do with it.
If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be?
If I must choose one word only, it would be: Dig.
Dig deeply into the choices you make as an educator to reflect on what brings you joy and purpose, and centralize that in your practice. Dig empathetically into the choices of others, especially those that befuddle you, to find the whys and hows of those choices that help you to see humanity and make that a part of your recipe for educating others. Dig into your craft and make it playful and shareable. Knowledge doesn’t really exist until it leaves your head.
If you can dig it, the likelihood increases stupendously that others will dig it too.
Very proud of myself for that wordplay. Can you dig it?
Are there other makers and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to promote?
A special shout-out to my good friend and drag daughter, Mario Martinez-Muñoz, for clueing me to this blog, to your wonderful show, and to you! He’s a force and a titan.
Wilson Wong is a talented educator, poet, mental health advocate, game-master, and wiz kid that I have enjoyed working with for many years now. His heart and spirit is vast, and that shows through his camaraderie with the rest of our team and especially the young people we co-learn alongside. He recently told me he wants to pursue education officially officially, and the world will soon know his name!
Nina Rubin is an undeniable source of good in this world, a dedicated and generous advocate and leader in youth development and mentorship training especially in the queer community of San Francisco, and a dear friend. We once worked alongside each other, and I hope one day not too far off that we’ll be brainstorming a project that centers the magnificent talents of QTPOC youth in our city.