Discovering one’s identity has never been not a simple task. Emerging singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza has been using her voice since 2015 to express internal conflicts that many face—conflicts that are worldwide. The New York native, now living in Los Angeles, uses her music to showcase the struggles inherent in embracing one’s identity, as well as speaking for aggrieved people and giving them the courage to take a stand. Zaragoza, a strong feminist musician, really staked out her point of view last October with the release of her new album, Woman in Color. Growing up, Zaragoza faced a challenge many others continue to face: understanding and accepting one’s identity. On this record, she traces her journey of self-discovery and how best to exist in a world that barely sees women, much less people of color, when indeed she will always be both.
Woman In Color dives into the deeper parts of American society, touching on stories of self-acceptance. Zaragoza’s top hit, “The It Girl,” voices the expectations the world often has of girls: a pleasant personality, physical beauty (preferably light skinned and blonde). Zaragoza indirectly implies the standards of “it girls” as she sings: “I could tell I was living in a world / That wasn’t made for brown skin girls.” At some point in her life, she believed her appearance was a limitations to her ability to be the ideal; but now she has the confidence to stay grounded and accept her appearance and true identity. In an interview with Ron Rocky Coloma from The Stanford Daily, Zaragoza speaks to young women like herself: “We are the leading characters—the “it girls” of our own lives. I hope the song empowers them and reminds them that society can’t tell us who we should be.” The lyrics defend self-acceptance, regardless of what society tells us. Her message strives to inspire listeners along their own path toward loving who they are.
On the track “Warrior," the songwriter continues on this theme of identity, which resonates deeply with her own life. For Zaragoza, whose mother is a Japanese immigrant and whose father is of Mexican and indigenous heritage, struggling to exist within many different ethnic worlds has been a concept with which she was familiar. In her captivating lyrics “I’ve been searching so long / It lived in me all along,” the artist implies that she found her “warrior” strength slumbering within her, even before it had revealed the courageous person she truly is. This track encourages listeners to search within themselves for their own power as well.
Accompanying this album, Zaragoza also released some music videos, including “Rebel Soul,” in which she dances freely, as if the chains of outside social pressures have been broken. She sings, “Tired of who they’re wanting me to be,” exploring a deeper part of herself. In Zaragoza’s case, she strived to satisfy what others wanted of her; finally, she cast aside the need to please others and focused rather on making herself happy and living her truth.
Other tracks on the album, including “Red” and “They Say,” further interpret Zaragoza’s message of loving ourselves and our differences, despite negative connotations regarding skin color. Woman in Color especially dismisses the notion that race and gender set us in stone. After spending some time with this album, I believe it shares a spectrum of compassion, individuality, and empowerment for everyone struggling to truly know themselves. The songs encourage listeners to shake off expectations and live within their own experience— whatever that may be, and whatever they wish to make it.