Cecilio García-Camarillo, journalist, editor, poet, publisher, and activist in the Chicano movement, was born in Big Wells, Dimmit County, Texas, on September 12, 1943, to Mónico García and Julia Camarillo. He grew up in Laredo, Texas, and was the oldest of five children in a family that claimed Tejano heritage on both sides. Cecilio attended Martin High School in Laredo, and he eventually attended the University of Texas at Austin from 1967 to 1971 and majored in English.
During his formative years, he became estranged from his father and purposefully included his mother’s surname in his name. A vigorous opponent of the Vietnam War, García-Camarillo increasingly became interested in a growing Chicano movement. He found early success with writing in 1970 when his poem “The Bomb/La Bomba” won the American Academy of Poets contest. In 1971 he moved to San Antonio, where he started the Chicano literary review, Magazin. A few years later, he published the successor to Magazin, the monthly magazine Caracol: La Revista de la Raza, which ran from 1974 to 1980. Through his artistic endeavors, Garcia-Camarillo contributed to the development of the Chicano movement as well as its literary community in which he was regarded with much esteem. He not only gave a voice to Chicanos in his poems but provided a forum for others to do so through the literary publications he founded. Many Chicano writers published their first works in Caracol. He collaborated with Tejano poets Carmen Tafolla and Reyes Cárdenas on his first book of poems, Get Your Tortillas Together, published in 1976. During the same year, Garcia-Camarillo lent his talents as editor to El Quetzal Emplumece, an encyclopedic collection of Chicano-Tejano writing. The compilation included works by church activists, teachers, community organizers, and Chicano writers.
In 1977 he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife Mia Kirsi-Stageberg and their son, Itzolin. His family eventually expanded to include two daughters, Cielo and Oraibi. García-Camarillo and his wife later separated. He collaborated with his children on some of his works. Itzolin, while still a child, published bilingual children’s stories under his father’s imprint, Mano Izquierda Books. Garcia-Camarilla established Mano Izquierda Books in 1981 with a series of chapbooks he illustrated with original and clip art drawings.
García-Camarillo received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982 in recognition of his continuous poetic career. That same year he published Carambola, a collection of his poems. The fellowship allowed him to purchase a house in Albuquerque. In 1983 he became involved with the bilingual community theater, La Compañía de Teatro de Albuquerque, for which he later produced his most significant dramatic work, La Virgen de Tepeyac, a political thriller Garcia-Camarillo co-wrote in 1992 with Ramón Flores, one of the theater directors.
Garcia-Camarillo’s published works also included Borlotes mestizos (1984) and Zafa’o (1992). His credits included approximately seventeen bilingual chapbooks, a mastery of the poema breve (brief poem), poemas concretos (concrete poems), and poemas visuales (visual poems on large poster panels). In addition to his establishment of two Chicano literary reviews, Magazin and Caracol, he wrote a newsletter, Rayas, for two years and for fifteen years had a weekly public radio show, Espejos de Aztlán, at station KUNM in Albuquerque. The program provided a venue for García-Camarillo’s cultural journalism where he broadcast news of the cultural and political happenings in Albuquerque. He played an active role in his community and often drove a truck for the local food bank. He also worked for the Hispanic Culture Foundation and served as a cultural attaché in the Mexican Consulate of Albuquerque.
Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo died of cancer in Albuquerque on January 16, 2002.