Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, professionally known as Yuna, is a Malaysian born singer-songwriter who has ties to Malaysian, Muslim and American culture. With a slew of awards and nominations, Yuna reaches wide audiences with three international albums and music created in English and her native tongue.
The artist and business woman is globally mobile as she developed her identity in Malaysia with influences from Muslim culture and then moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties. The balance between Malay, Islamic, and American culture is evident in her music. Yuna shows dedication to staying true to herself and integrating all of the cultures she identifies with.
Dr. Tori Arthur, Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, specializing in racial and ethnic issues in the media, explains that the significance of individuals expressing their true identities is “palpable.”
“Intersectionality has empowered people to embrace their multiple identities, be they cultural, racial, ethnic, gender or class based,” Dr. Arthur continues.
I found a perfect balance between both cultures. What I’m trying to do for other women is say that it’s OK to be modern, and it’s OK to look forward and to move forward and to speak your mind, but also to stick to your identity.”
Yuna told Allure magazine “I’m in the middle of modern and traditional. Sometimes I’m too Western for my Southeast Asian fans, and sometimes I’m too Asian for my Western fans. I found a perfect balance between both cultures. What I’m trying to do for other women is say that it’s OK to be modern, and it’s OK to look forward and to move forward and to speak your mind, but also to stick to your identity.”
According to Dr. Arthur, “The reality is, no person only represents one thing. We all have plural identities. The more individuals discuss their plural identities and how they embrace their multiplicity, the less likely our culture will be to focus solely on the most obvious identity.”
The reality is, no person only represents one thing. We all have plural identities.”
Embracing her true self
Yuna is recognized by the hijab that she wears, a headscarf representing her Muslim faith. The Cut describes that when she first came to the U.S. people were surprised that she was educated, could drive and wore bright colors instead of all black. In the interview she explains, “It’s my personal choice — it’s just kind of weird when people say ‘take off your hijab and be you’ because this is me, I’m being myself. I’m not oppressed. This is very liberating that I get to do this and be in the music industry. I like that I don’t have to conform to the normal.”
Her music represents some common themes and challenges that TCKs and cross-cultural individuals face. In an interview with ArmacoWorld, Yuma addresses how her sense of home and belonging is not always complete.
Los Angeles is the place she now calls home, but she states, “my family and friends live in Kuala Lumpur. So it’s not a conﬂict exactly, but it’s a point I’m still figuring out in my life. I’ve been in America for a while, but sometimes it still doesn’t quite feel like I’m home. I feel like an outsider sometimes.”
Yuna wants to craft songs that work together to tell a complete story about what makes her who she is. Even though she occasionally struggles with where she belongs, she recognizes her roots and the influence they have in her life. Her authentic style and music show that people can belong to a combination of culture, not just one.