Incoming SDSU student Jesus Montoya has overcome a number of obstacles to become a talented painter.
Montoya paints a landscape at his room in a Santee nursing home.
It would have been easy to allow circumstances to get the best of him.
Though quadriplegic after a car accident at 21 years old, incoming San Diego State University student Jesus Montoya would not let it define him — and he continues to strive toward goals that many would consider nearly impossible.
He will begin classes this fall at SDSU for a bachelor’s degree in social work after recently graduating from Grossmont Community College with an associate’s degree.
Montoya was born in Michoacan, Mexico in 1977 and came to America at the age of 13 in search of opportunity.
In 1999, he was driving to his second job — a position he had taken to support his soon-to-be-born son. In the rain, he saw a car coming at him and he crashed while trying to avoid it. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury, leaving him with no use of his legs and very limited use of his arms. His disability led to frustration, which in turn led to anger.
“I was depressed all the time, angry,” Montoya said. “I was bitter and mean to others. It can be hard to live like that.”
He has lived in a nursing home since the accident, most recently at Edgemoor in Santee. Initially, he directed his anger and frustration at the nurses who cared for him.
The pain and bitterness eventually gave way to resolve, and Montoya decided he would find opportunities to empower himself. These opportunities would come in two very different paths — education and art.
The path to SDSU
Montoya’s journey to a degree has been anything but easy. He has persevered through a number of struggles to become the first from his nursing home to continue his education.
He initially considered a career in graphic design, but his heart took him down a different path.
“I wanted to help people,
maybe people who are in a situation like mine,
and make their lives better.”
“After seeing what social workers did when then they worked with me, I knew what I needed to do,” Montoya said.
“I wanted to help people, maybe people who are in a situation like mine, and make their lives better.”
His path started by taking an English class for three years, followed by Foothills Adult Education Center for his high school diploma — he did not want a GED — which he earned after several years. Then he took busses and trolleys to attend Grossmont Community College.
Montoya is the first one from his nursing home to accomplish this level of independence, said Rebecca Ferrini, Edgemoor’s medical director.
A passion for painting
While attending school, Montoya began painting by holding the brush in his mouth. He soon realized he had a passion for art, specifically painting landscapes and flowers.
“When I start to feel down and depressed, I’ll just start to paint,” Montoya said. “After I’m done, I’ll look at the clock and hours have passed and I won’t even have noticed – I just lose myself in my painting.”
Now, his paintings are hung on walls in Edgemoor. Some are donated to non-profits devoted to bringing art to disabled individuals.
Help from friends
Though Montoya has become more independent, he realizes he could not have done it alone. He attributes much of his ability to use art to overcome depression to an organization that assists other disabled artists.
The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists is an association of artists who have learned to express themselves through painting with their mouths or feet due to the loss of their hands through birth defect, accident or illness. They also contact disabled people who want to learn to paint and support themselves through their art.
“They made this happen,” Montoya said. “Without their grants and their guidance, I really don’t know where I’d be.”