Magenta Door Bistro by Maria Ojascastro

Celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month with Maria Ojascastro 

In the vibrant tapestry of American culture, the threads of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage are rich, diverse, and deeply influential. As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we turn our spotlight on an extraordinary artist whose work not only reflects their cultural heritage but also bridges the gap between tradition and modernity. Honored for their outstanding contributions to the arts, this artist embodies the spirit of creativity, resilience, and cultural pride.  

Join us as we delve into the life, inspiration, and artistic journey of COCA Teaching Artist Maria Ojascastro whose creations continue to inspire and resonate within and beyond the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. 

Maria: I am a Filipino American. My parents immigrated from the Philippines to St. Louis as medical professionals when they were in their 20s. Later, I was born and raised in St. Louis along with my six siblings. I’ve never lived in the Philippines, but I’ve visited three times. When I was in college and graduate school, my travels to the Philippines, Jamaica, and Italy brought vibrant colors and textures of the landscape, architecture, and flora into my abstract artwork. Over the years, even when I tried to use pastel colors, simplified palettes, or just black and white, my art always became rich with hues that verge on garish and crowded with various textures. 

Magenta Door by Maria Ojascastro
“Magenta Door Bistro” 8×8, acrylic on canvas board, 2021
Believe by Maria Ojascastro
“Believe” 8×8, mixed media on paper, 2021

Maria: My artwork layers prints, paint, text, and found objects as a meditation on resilience, salvaged from the relics of interrupted journeys. My resilience comes from being a daughter of immigrants who were significantly impacted by World War II when they were preteens. Even without family with them, my parents and other immigrants who came during the same time thrived when they moved halfway across the world.

Peace Poles Maria Ojascastro
Peace Poles, 2023 (The patterns and colors I used are reminiscent of the iconic Filipino jeepney, which represent the country’s ingenuity, tenacity, and feeling of community. The jeepney’s story dates back to the aftermath of World War II when surplus military jeeps from the United States found their way to the Philippines.)

Maria: One of my favorite quotes is “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I treat my garden like a large-scale installation that is a magical masterpiece to be shared with friends, family members, art for well-being students, and other artists. Although my parents and siblings have been a part of the medical profession, one of my grandpas was a farmer. When my dad was a young boy, he helped him sell vegetables in the farmers market. Today, I continue my grandpa’s and dad’s legacy in my home. It is a place where I grow food and flowers, and other artists come to create, surrounded by colors and textures inspired by my heritage. Long after I’m gone, the perennials will continue to grow for generations to enjoy, and I hope what I leave behind will continue to be a healing garden.

Garden Maria Ojascastro
Perennial flowers in foreground and annual vegetables and flowers in background.
Flowers from garden
Flowers harvested from my garden in front of my barn that was converted into an art studio.
Artist Retreat
Artists showing off their dyed and printed fabrics during one of my artist retreats.

Maria: Many Asian and Pacific Island American artists are children of immigrants who were expected to choose a practical career. But we can be both practical and creative. I make my living as a teaching artist that gigs in cultural, mental health, medical, and educational institutions. My art and my career are always evolving. My advice is to use that immigrant work ethic with the American dream advantages to live your best life.

Dad harvesting tomatoes
My dad, a doctor by profession but a farmer at heart, harvesting cherry tomatoes with my chickens in the background.