Artist and Humanitarian Jose Castro ‘09 on History and the M-A Mural

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This is the 42nd article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni.

Jose Castro ‘09 knew early on that he wanted to use art to shape society. “Starting at a young age by incorporating my history with anime, I started dabbling into what I really like to do,” he said. “Now I am a full-time artist where I get to create murals and inspire people. My art consists of abstract surrealism, as I like to put it.” As a professional artist and humanitarian, he has created numerous pieces ranging from portraits to bar graffiti to street art murals, including the new mural on the wall outside the S-Wing bathrooms. 

Castro began his artistic journey making simple drawings of every Pokémon card he had. “I knew I was going to be an artist from the third grade, and by drawing each of these cards I realized this is something I love,” he said. “At a young age, I knew that in a way I was growing up too fast, but I knew where I was going to go. Art was not only my escape route, but my college plan and my everything. But, it wasn’t the easiest for one to become an artist or feel accepted by society.”

Growing up in North Fair Oaks, Castro was not given any benefits that public schools were able to offer. “I went to Hoover Elementary, which is practically a joke if you consider what public education is now. Back then our public school system wasn’t offering people that look like me the right pathways or the right places of where we could start in society and where we were able to go. We were pointing towards a circle and had to stay in it. We had all these teachers who didn’t look like us and were trying to teach us a history that was written by a certain democracy. It wasn’t meant for people who looked like me. When I took all that into consideration, I went to high school not only feeling lost, but feeling the need to do something about this in my own aspect.”

Castro’s senior portrait

Before coming to M-A, Castro went to the charter school High Tech High for two years. “That school got closed down in two years because of the lack of urgency and resources from the school. They thought they could get this brand-new school, an idea by rich folks who thought they could bring that mindset into the hood, but that just wasn’t the case. They learned they couldn’t just come in and tell us how we are going to live our lives because they are showing us shiny things,” he said. “In reality, you have this entire community of people who have not only been subjected to a victim manner, but have had everything taken away from them.”

“Freshman year is when I started to see my friends get in trouble with the law. This is a time when I’m seeing my community crumble to pieces because of the lack of resources and not knowing any better,” he said. “The thing that sucks is that most of that everything starts at the house. You never know what the person next door is going through. Some people couldn’t come out of debt, or they didn’t have a mom or a dad. How are you supposed to inspire a young kid that doesn’t have any core support at the house? It was that time from eighth grade or freshman year where it really occurred to me that I had to do something about it.”

Once he arrived at M-A, he immediately wanted to learn more about his history. “I wanted to ask questions about my culture, background, and my real history. To me this involved Chicano to lifestyle lowrider art, which were all elements that I come from and all incorporated with anime, so it ended up being the sort of lifestyle that I didn’t even know I had, but was already adapting to. M-A is where I really saw the difference in lifestyles. It was awesome to know that I wanted to be different and hungry to do more, but it sucked at the time because I wasn’t conscious enough to know what it really is that I wanted. I went into this realm of wanting to know my history, but also wanting to be a kid and do my thing.”

At M-A, Castro was able to apply his skills and beliefs in Leadership and AP Art Studio. “I was part of the Leadership group, and was in charge of the art department. So any posters and flyers made, I was dabbling into. Leadership does everything from beautifying the school to offering those resources, and putting things together like on the Canned Food Drive. AP Art was also my favorite class, because it allowed me to create certain artworks and a theme of what kind of artwork I wanted to create. That spearheaded my way into fusing the anime and Chicano art, and putting it together.”

With this experience from high school, Castro put it together at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “There I learned all the ins and outs of things like oil painting and acrylic painting. With all of it I was able to create my style and my company, and I am able to not only produce works to contribute to society, but also murals that tell stories to allow youngsters and the elderly to ask questions on topics regarding humanity, equity, community peace, self courage and self value.”

As for Castro’s company, he created Anonymous Recipes after finishing art school. “I pieced it all together by creating Anonymous Recipes, by putting all those history lessons and core values that I believe as a humanitarian we should all carry. But most importantly, messages on how to contribute to society, because we all have to do that. It’s everybody that has to live with these core values to contribute to society every day, and it’s all about going back to our basics and simply being humanitarian.”

He explained, “The name is called Anonymous Recipes because it is anonymous between the different levels of media and work that I do, and the recipes are the products that deliver. My company really represents everything that I create.”

Apart from his own company, Castro has also displayed his work in many art exhibitions, though it wasn’t easy. “Right after my senior year of college, I went to my first art show where I could show off all these works of art, and I was so proud of myself and was expecting everyone to dig my work. Nobody even looked at me. They all thought I was just a lost little kid, and honestly I almost gave up because I felt like a failure. But that was the first time I learned that you have to learn how to fail to really succeed. You have to learn how to fail to really understand yourself, and most importantly, love yourself. When you hit the bottom ground and you feel alone, there’s nothing more than knowing that you can pick yourself back up the next time it comes around.”

Castro picked himself up and went into the next exhibition. He said, “I went back in full throttle, and sold my first artwork for $300, and started noticing things from other artists. Whatever your job is, you always want to take from those that you want to learn from because we’re all inspired from something. For my next art shows, I started selling more and more, and eventually I got introduced to muralism, but never would have thought that it was possible for me.”

His first mural opportunity was in his hometown of North Fair Oaks, on a wall 80 feet wide and 20 feet tall. “The opportunity was basically in my backyard, and I applied thinking I was never going to be able to get this. But, I brought my community with me, created a design that was approachable, equitable, and most importantly representative of the small community that I’m from. I got the job in 2017 and gave it all I had.”

Castro and Chien in front of the mural wall

Now, the most recent mural he is working on is right here at M-A. “A former friend of mine that worked at M-A mentioned wanting to paint a student-designed mural, which was Celine Chien’s* remarkable design. I think having ties to the school by being an alumni and also being confident when talking to the principal, it allowed me to solidify that I’m not only representing what the entire mural is about in my daily works, but from my community advocacy. I spoke with Celine, and she was so open to me allowing my artistry to come alive and incorporate my style.”

“In the social justice part of the mural, we see the people with the banners and the people with symbols are exactly how Celine had it in her drawing. It was a breeze and a blessing to be able to have this opportunity,” Castro said. “Now that I paint these murals, it’s really a blessing to be able to not only do what I love to do, but also shed light on certain topics, and be able to do that all by making people feel worthy.”

Castro reflected, “When I learned to merge the art and the history, and saw what was going on around me, that’s when I really wanted to represent different instances. So again, I noticed what was happening in my environment. Before I could become a product of a bad environment, I wanted to make sure I was only part of a good one. I left not only a legacy, but messages to any viewer who can notice and acknowledge the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of our everyday education system and society, and try to understand that this focus on changing that for today. I plan to continue to progress not only in communities, but mindsets.”

Castro’s advice for current M-A students: “Go home and ask those in your family questions regarding where you’re from and your history, because your history is everything that’s going to be in the world. It not only allows you to understand self value, but allows you to fully represent yourself no matter where you go, because you know where you came from.”

Castro’s advice for future artists: “Practice, practice, practice. When you practice, you create techniques, and then when you have your techniques, you’re able to create style. And then when you have your own style, you’re an artist

*Celine Chien is a journalist for the M-A Chronicle

Tessa is a junior in her second year of journalism. She enjoys co-writing for the Bears Doing Big Things column and the social trends happening at M-A. Tessa also enjoys playing tennis and is on the varsity team.

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