KTEP - El Paso, Texas

This Tiny Desk Contestant Rapped A Love Letter To Her Immigrant Mother

Jun 22, 2019
Originally published on July 11, 2019 1:32 pm

Quinn Christopherson may be the winner of the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest, but this year's 6,000-plus entries included many outstanding performances.

One of those standouts came from rapper Ruby Ibarra and her band The Balikbayans, a group of Filipino-American musicians based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Ibarra — who was born in Tacloban City in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States with her family in the 1990s — calls the song she submitted, "Someday," an ode to her mother.

Ibarra reflects on the song in a note that she sent to NPR:

It is my declaration that my mother and I will make it in this country. I think that when we talk about immigration, especially in mainstream media, much of that is often romanticized and simplified; the experience and struggles are overlooked and the formation of identity and sense of belonging are neglected.

When my mom moved to California from the Philippines in 1991, she went from being an accountant to a fast food janitor/cashier. She left everything behind in her motherland in hopes to provide better opportunities for me and my younger sister. She learned quickly how to be on survival mode and realized that the American Dream was far more complex than the mainstream narrative. The song "Someday" captures these themes and most importantly, captures my mother's story, which is ultimately a similar story for many immigrants — trying to find a place to call home.

YouTube

Ibarra describes her art as unfiltered, a quality that shines through in her band's Tiny Desk submission. "I feel like when I am on that stage, or when I'm expressing myself through the lyrics that I rap, I feel like that's me in my rawest form," she says.

Ibarra's verses on "Someday," addressed to her mother, are a testament to this rawness. "Mama, I know it's gon' be fine wherever we go / 'Cause we know, you raised this girl to dream and be a hero / What's an ego to an eagle? I free-flow when I speak though / My pipe dreams through a peephole, my skin so Filipino," she raps.

After earning an accounting degree cum laude at her university in the Philippines, Ibarra's mother decided to come to the United States.

"Especially during the '80s and the '90s, the economy wasn't doing so well in the Philippines. And a lot of people really had this mentality that, 'If I go to America, I'm gonna have better educated children or a better life,' basically," Ibarra says. "Upon moving here, I think that's when my mom realized that it wasn't all she expected it to be."

But the rapper says that her mother always remained a model of resilience for Ibarra and her sister. "She was the matriarch and the patriarch in our household," Ibarra says. "She was always my example of what it meant to be Pinay, a woman who pretty much did s*** on her own, carried everything on her own back."

Ibarra expresses her profound admiration for her mother in the lyrics of "Someday." When she raps, "Mama we goin' make it here someday" it's meant to be a promise.

"I want to reach a point someday where I can look at her in the face and say that we made it," Ibarra says. "I think that sense of belonging, that sense of hope, is a thread that's very common in a lot of immigrant stories."

In addition to expressing her truest self through her music, Ibarra says that she hopes to pass inspiration on to others who want to do the same.

"I am what I talk about in my music. I am Pinay, I'm powerful, I'm fearless, I'm unfiltered," Ibarra says. "And I like to hope that there's young women out there who feel the same way. Or even if they don't feel the same way, I hope to inspire young women out there to want to use their voice, to claim who they are and to embrace their identity."

Listen to the full aired story at the audio link.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Quinn Christopherson is the winner of this year's 2019 Tiny Desk Contest. But with more than 6,000 entries, we wanted to take some time to feature some standout performances sent into NPR. This is Ruby Ibarra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY")

RUBY IBARRA: (Rapping) I wrote this album because I want my life to change. Tired of being shortchanged. I'm trying to remain sane. Hopped off the plane, didn't stop all the pain. My father's still in debt, and we've been struggling to pay.

SIMON: Ibarra and her band The Balikbayans are Filipino Americans from the San Francisco Bay area. Their song "Someday" impressed our judges and received hundreds of comments on YouTube.

IBARRA: For me, I feel like when I am on that stage or when I'm, you know, expressing myself through the lyrics that I rap, I feel like that's me in my rawest form.

SIMON: Ibarra was born in Tacloban City in the Philippines. In the 1990s, she and her family immigrated to the U.S. And she says "Someday" is an ode to her mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY")

IBARRA: (Rapping) I know it's going to be fine wherever we go because we know you raised this girl to dream and be a hero. What's an ego to an eagle? I free flow when I speak, though. My pipe dreams through a peephole, my skin so Filipino.

She was the matriarch and the patriarch in our household. She was always my example of what it meant to be a Pinay, a woman who carried everything on her own back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY")

IBARRA: (Rapping) I study my mother, wonder how she holds this family, that minimum salary stretched as much as it can be.

So my mom went to school in the Philippines. She graduated in accounting. She was cum laude in her university. You know, she wanted to come to the U.S., especially, you know, during the '80s and the '90s. Economy wasn't doing so well in the Philippines, and a lot of people really had this mentality that if I go to America, I'm going to have better educated children or a better life, basically.

Upon moving here, I think that's when my mom realized that it wasn't all she expected it to be. She applied to a lot of different jobs. And the very first job she was able to get was as a janitor at McDonald's.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY")

IBARRA: (Rapping) All I ever knew is being me, so all I ever need to say is, I said, Mama, we going to make it there someday. I said, Mama, we going to make it there someday.

Growing up and seeing her as my hero through all those years, making it there someday was for me to get an education out here and to get a job. And I want to reach a point someday that - where I could, you know, look at her in the face and say that we made it.

And I think that that sense of belonging, that sense of hope is a thread that's very common in a lot of immigrant stories. These are the stories of their mothers, their sisters, their fathers in these songs. And that's all I've ever wanted to do with music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "US")

IBARRA: (Rapping) Island woman, rise, walang makakatigil (ph). Brown, brown woman, rise, alamin ang yung ugat (ph). They got nothing on us, nothing on us, nothing on us, nothing on us.

I am what I talk about in my music. I'm Pinay. I'm powerful. I'm fearless. I'm unfiltered. And I'd like to hope that there's young women out there who feel the same way. Or even if they don't feel the same way, I hope to inspire young women out there to want to, you know, use their voice to claim who they are and to embrace their identity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE OTHER SIDE, WELCOME")

IBARRA: (Rapping) The grass is greener on the other side - the other side. Forget your dreams. You down to ride?

SIMON: Ruby Ibarra - her Tiny Desk standout performance song is "Someday."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE OTHER SIDE, WELCOME")

IBARRA: (Rapping) The grass is greener on the other side - other side. But now I'm feeling lesser brown inside. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.