A Conversation With Multi-racial, Cross-Cultural Folk Singer Raye Zaragoza

Folk singer Raye Zaragoza's "Woman in Color" Album Cover credit: Artwork by Mika Sen Kirksey

The music shaping our world today comes from dynamic, female, multicultural folk singers like Adult Cross-Cultural Kid — Raye Zaragoza in her new album — “Woman in Color.”

folk singer Raye Zaragoza standing by the river credit: Cultivate Consulting
Folk Singer Raye Zaragoza
credit: Cultivate Consulting

In short, Japanese-American, Mexican, Indigenous, folk singer and activist Raye Zaragoza, like so many other Adult Cross-Cultural Kids (ACCK), wrestles with ethnic identity, belonging, and post-colonial standards of beauty.

Living in-between cultures as a folk singer

I truly thought that in order to be beautiful, you had to be white.

Raye Zaragoza

On Her Childhood

The 27-year-old Zaragoza was raised in New York City, USA along with two siblings. Her parents invested part of their household budget on cultivating their children’s creativity and support for the performing arts.

Zaragoza’s mother immigrated to the United States from Japan. She brought with her the complex amalgamation of Japanese and Taiwanese heritage and national identity. She met Zaragoza’s father, who is Mexican-American, and Akimel O’otham — Native American. Zaragoza’s parents met at a karate class in New York City, USA where they later married.

Becoming a folk singer

Zaragoza’s family later moved to Los Angeles, Calif., USA when she was 14-years-old.

By 2016, Zaragoza had become more aware of her intersectional identity as an ACCK living in-between cultures. Zaragoza’s rich heritage includes Akimel O’otham descent — Native  American people primarily residing in what is now Arizona, USA, and Sonora, Mexico.

On her heritage and finding peace with her cross-cultural identity, Zaragoza says she is a “through-and-through New Yorker,” and is unsure if she has reconciled her identity as an Adult Cross-Cultural Kid, as it is a journey.

photo of folk singer Raye Zaragoza near a river
Folk Singer Raye Zaragoza credit: Cultivate Consulting

“I guess I have come so far in terms of reconciling my … racial identity,” Zaragosa says. “I think I do have many insecurities surrounded by this feeling that I’m not Japanese enough, Mexican enough, Native enough to claim them.

“Every time I meet someone who’s Japanese and (I say) I’m Japanese too, I still have that same pit in my stomach like I’m a fraud.”

As a cross-cultural person, we feel like we’re cut up into quarters.

Raye Zaragoza

Zaragoza put those feelings into perspective by adding, “My identity lies in who I am. It lies in Raye. It lies in this whole, full human being. No matter what community I belong to, I belong first and foremost to myself.”

She shares that thinking this way has set her free, “No one can tell me who I am. No one can be a gatekeeper for exploring my heritage or owning my heritage. “

A deeper interest in her Indigenous culture led to a closer connection to her Akimel O’otham roots and the continued injustices she sees within various Indigenous communities: most notably, the community of Standing Rock, South Dakota.

The trouble at Standing Rock

The trouble began when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepted an application from the Texas-based developer — Energy Transfer Partners. They proposed to build a 1,712-mile-long (1,886 km) oil pipeline — the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). DAPL would run through the sovereign land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Tribe’s position is that approving DAPL would violate Article II of the Fort Laramie Treaty: treaty with the United States that guarantees the undisturbed use and occupation of reservation lands surrounding the proposed DAPL site.

On its website, Energy Transfer Partners claims The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is the safest and most environmentally sensitive way to transport crude oil from domestic wells to American consumers. It is among the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world.”

“The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is the safest and most environmentally sensitive way to transport crude oil from domestic wells to American consumers. It is among the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world.”

— Energy Transfer Partners

In 2015, the sovereign nation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe passed a resolution stating that (The) Dakota Access Pipeline poses serious risk to the very survival of our Tribe and would destroy valuable cultural resources.

The Standing Rock protests

Initially, the tribe generated attention and support to block the approval of the DAPL application. It organized marches, horseback rides, and runs. They were backed by other Native Nations and non-Native allies, politicians and celebrities.

First, protesters were met with hundreds of arrests and sometimes violent clashes with North Dakota law enforcement and private guards hired by Energy Transfer Partners.

And it was the moment that compelled Zaragoza to do something to help Indigenous people. Zaragoza took to the pen to write music.

Zaragoza on Writing “In The River”

That is to say, at age 22, when Standing Rock happened, something shifted in me she said.

I realized that I was sick of pushing injustice to the side that had affected me my whole life.

Raye Zaragoza
photo of folk singer Raye Zaragoza in a garden
Folk singer — Raye Zaragoza credit: Jimmy Himes

Writing “In The River” and engaging her brother to create an accompanying music video propelled Zaragoza onto the activist’s stage.

Zaragoza thinks of herself as more of a “social change artist,” saying that most of her activism is tied to her music.

Subsequently, the folk singer released the debut album and song of the same name — “Fight  for You.”

Folk singer fights for change

If you fight for me, I’ll fight for you.

Raye Zaragoza — Lyric from “I’ll Fight for You.”

Zaragoza says she wrote the song after a march in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., USA. She was marching with other Indigenous women on either side of her feeling “a sense of being part of a community — a sisterhood” for one of the first times in her life.

 Of this protest-driven debut album, Zaragoza recalls that “it had me finding my voice as a woman of color.”

Folk Singer Raye Zaragoza Singing “They Say.” credit: Raye Zaragoza

Billboard and Paste Magazine praised Zaragoza for the album.

“I am proud to be a multicultural, brown woman with insecurities and a vibrant intersectional identity that I continue to grapple with,” she says.

I am proud to be a multicultural, brown woman with insecurities and a vibrant intersectional identity that I continue to grapple with. “

Raye Zaragoza

More from Raye Zaragoza

Her brave, timely, and poignant folk music, along with stirring feminist anthems is what sets Zaragoza’s music apart. Her sophomore album, which was produced by the famed Tucker Martine and released via Zaragoza’s independent label: Rebel River Records, “Woman in Color,” fills Zaragoza with excitement.

The album was two years in the making and brilliantly gives voice to today’s struggles for marginalized people and celebrates diversity and womanhood.

Folk singer — Raye Zaragoza’s interview on living in-between cultures and more.
credit: Antoinette Lee Toscano

In the video above, Zaragoza talks extensively about cross-cultural identity in “Change Your Name,” (the song about her mother’s immigration story), about feeling isolated being a woman of color in folk music, and trying to meet Eurocentric standards of beauty..

Folk singer Raye Zaragoza's Woman in Color Album Cover
Folk singer Raye Zaragoza’s “Woman in Color” Album Cover
credit: Artwork by Mika Sen Kirksey

Out on Oct. 23, you can buy “Woman in Color” on Zaragoza’s website and on Apple and other music streaming services.


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