A few years back, Michael Montenegro took my film class at SBCC and was the smartest and most passionate student, albeit quite shy. I was slightly disappointed when he turned in an assignment one day that I knew wasn’t up to his capabilities, so I told him he could do better.
Three years later, I’m happy to report that he’s maximizing his potential. Long gone is the shyness, for now he’s an outspoken and confident man. But primarily I’m pleased that he’s a youth coordinator at the YMCA’s Youth and Family Center on Haley Street, where he mentors young kids about media and filmmaking.
A Santa Barbara resident since 1996, Michael takes much pride in Chicano culture and the wellbeing of the Latino community. In his spare time, he does social media marketing and produces creative projects like his own films.
Here, go-getter Michael answers the Proust questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Ruben Salazar. He was a pioneer Latino journalist from 1959 to 1970, and he covered mainstream news to local Chicano (Mexican-American) issues. I find his work to be the bridge between the White and Latino worlds of covering Latino issues and be the voice for the voiceless, while telling them in mainstream language.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My childhood friend Jose De Jesus Almanza. We’re both first generation Americans of Mexican parents of Michoacan. We joke around about everything, from pop culture, social issues, astronomy, and Mexican-American problems. And we do all this bilingually. He makes me laugh so hysterically to point where I “cough-squeal,” a side effect due to my childhood asthma.
What is your most treasured possession?
A belt with a Virgin Guadalupe belt buckle that my Uncle Manuel gave to me when I was 11 years old in my summer stint in Mexicali, Baja California. I was able to appreciate it more when I grew into it.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Hella firme (Chicano word)
Si Se Puede
Que Onda Champeon?
What do you like most about your job?
That it doesn’t feel like work. I’m basically getting paid to do what I love doing, which is working with media/film and youth, so doing both is incredible. I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Also, I’ve been told I’m a pretty cool teacher, so that’s rewarding.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be financially stable, where I can travel internationally, be able to produce my own creative projects, and to see my daughter grow up in front of my eyes and give her a better childhood and future than I had.
What is your greatest fear?
Dying too soon without doing enough for society.
Who do you most admire?
My daughter. She’s incredible. What else do I have to say more? But prior of her being born, it would be Anthony Bourdain. He’s living my dream of traveling, meeting interesting individuals, having meaningful conversations, trying delicious food while producing great content. That’s the life I want to live.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating out. I used to be a beans & cheese type of kid growing up, where I wasn’t open to vegetables and such, now older, I’m able to appreciate the diversity in food a lot more.
What is your current state of mind?
Time is the most valuable thing to have and give.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Open-minded, outgoing, creative, “weird”, critical thinkers, genuine, direct.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Close mindedness to learn more.
What do you most value in friends?
The geniality of being yourself!
What is your most marked characteristic?
Passionate and being direct.
Which talent would you most like to have?
To play the classical guitar like Nicolas Reyes of the Gypsy Kings.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My bad food habits, because its responsible for my energy and weight.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a father, but that’s kinda a given for most parents to say. But to mention my second greatest achievement: when I did my first ever screening with local filmmakers to an audience of around 150 people at the Marjorie Luke Theater in 2013. I screened my second short documentary on a after school program called Pedal Power ( Link to video https://vimeo.com/55427786) that I directed/edited/filmed for SBBIKE. It was a special experience to see my film with an audience and do a Q&A afterwords. I hope to do that again with my future projects and larger audiences.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Ventura, Oxnard, Mexicali, Baja California, and Jacksonville, Florida for several months, as well stayed a few weeks in places like Altoona, PA and NYC, NY. It was only when I left then came back that I was able to appreciate my hometown so much more.
On what occasion do you lie?
I do my best to not lie, because I don’t like remembering them.
What is your motto?
Si Se Puede.