Raye Zaragoza sings her story on ‘Woman In Color’

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Raye Zaragoza dubbed her 2020 album Woman in Color because she saw it as “a coloring book, and each song was like a little bit of me to paint in my history, my past, my present and my future.”

“As a woman of color in America and someone of mixed race, I’ve always felt that identity is something that weighs heavily on me and something I really wanted to write about in this album,” she said.

Zaragoza recently spoke to me and shared some acoustic solo performances from her album. We’ve played the recording on “Simply Folk” quite a bit as the songs are beautiful and showcase a wide range of styles within the Folk and Americana genres. More produced than some of her previous albums, “Woman in Color” received critical acclaim and was played by radio stations across the country. (See the link above for the full interview and musical performances.)

One of the cuts with the most airplay is “Fight Like a Girl”. Zaragoza said she “really wants to write a feminist anthem that puts women of color front and center because historically, women of color have been excluded from the feminism narrative in many ways. And the needs of women of color were not prioritized.”

Zaragoza started acting as a teenager when she had to deal with a lot of “performance pressures,” adding, “As an actress, I felt like I had to fit into something that they wanted for this role. And if I wasn’t, then I was just worthless. I could never control being as perfect as they wanted and dealing with that rejection was really hard.”

Making music became her outlet, and although the music industry is male-dominated, she found her earlier struggles with her identity as a woman to be empowering.

“Because I had such a hard time growing up, was so embarrassed about my tan skin and felt like I wished I could look like all the women on TV, I think I used my music to “I think that with music, I’m grateful that I was able to find an empowering path that’s different than when I was growing up.”

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Zaragoza’s mother immigrated from Japan when she was three years old, but she is also of Taiwanese descent, while Zaragoza’s father is both Mexican and Indigenous. This mix of heritage formed the basis of her outlook on life and her music.

“Both of my parents have felt like fish out of water in their lives,” she said. “My father taught me a lot about what it means to be a person of color and the challenges that come with it, but also the beautiful things that come with it. And my mother, an immigrant who moved here with a stateless passport where no country claimed her as their own, had her own identity crisis. So I really felt like I inherited these interesting perspectives on American culture and society through the eyes of my parents and their complex identities. So I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to make sense of it.”

Channeling the work of “making sense of everything” into her music, she conveys not only her own story as a woman of color, but the stories of others as well. An example on the album is the song “Red,” a song she admitted she doesn’t perform that often “because it’s a very heavy song.”

The play addresses the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis, which has recently received some public attention. Nevertheless, the problem persists. A 2018 study found that 4 in 5 Indigenous women experience violence at some point in their lives, with more than half experiencing sexual assault. Neither she nor her family members have experienced this kind of violence, but Zaragoza said the song hit a deep chord within her.

“It’s one of those songs where I feel like I burst into tears every time I play it,” she said. “I just really hope that these women and their stories are told. And hopefully this song is just a way to get people to learn more about missing and murdered tribal women.”

For her, Zaragoza’s music was a way to reach out to young people of color and empower them, to let them know that their stories are shared by others.

“I just wanted to write about this experience because I know it’s more universal than we think and more people are experiencing it than I thought when I was a kid,” she said. “I think that whole journey of life and that whole search for identity has been a big driving force of my music for me, because it was something that weighed heavily on me and got me on this whole journey of self-discovery that I’ve been processing through music.”

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