RUBY IBARRA RECLAIMS HER NARRATIVE THROUGH RAP
The Bay Area-based rapper celebrates her identity as a Filipino-American immigrant and empowers women around the world
“Island woman rise, walang makakapigil,” chants Ruby Ibarra in her song “Us.” This motto, with walang makakapigil meaning “no one can stop you” in Tagalog, is just one of many empowering lines in Ibarra’s music encouraging Filipina women to break through the patriarchy and oppression that have affected them throughout history.
Ruby Ibarra was born in the Philippines and later immigrated to San Lorenzo, California. Raised by a single mother, Ibarra was extremely moved and influenced by her mother’s struggles. Although her mother received a degree in accounting in the Philippines, she had to start from scratch upon immigrating to the states, working humbler jobs as a janitor and cashier. Ibarra has redeemed her mom’s sacrifice through her raps, making sure that the immigration story is not romanticized, but instead acknowledged and honored for its difficult reality in all aspects, whether financial or emotional.
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Ibarra [...] makes sure that the immigration story is not romanticized, but instead reflected for its difficult reality in all aspects, whether financial or emotional.
In her rap “Someday,” Ibarra explains the reality of her situation growing up: “At school, reduced lunches while my mama skip her lunchtime / Nine to five minimum wage, she at the bus line.” She goes on to the chorus, repeating: “I said, ‘Mama, we gon’ make it here someday’ (Someday)” to signify that they have not “made it” yet, that they have not yet truly achieved the American dream. While the stereotypical narrative of an immigrant shows one who moves to America for new opportunities and is quickly able to achieve them and rise up in society, the reality for most immigrants is very different, as so many continue to work hard with little to no promise of a better future.
Ibarra calls upon her moth to not only to reclaim the story of immigration, but also to help reinsert missing female narratives into different realms of life and lend Filpina women a voice through her music. In her song “Us,” featured artist Faith Santilla shares a monologue that says “Pinays have always been part and parcel, if not imperative and critical to the struggle/Filipinas are no strangers to wielding our own power/Of all the privileges that exist in this world, none of which you may be a benefactor of/There is at least one you bare/And that is the privilege of having been born a Filipina/Your DNA contains building blocks made from the mud of over 500 years of resistance and survival.” Moving beyond the struggle of Filpino immigration into America, “Us” refers to a greater struggle of Filpina women across history, having overcome patriarchal oppressors and colonizers. Although Filipina women are most often in the position of being the oppressed, Ibarra and Santilla make it clear that the identity of being Filipina is something worth celebrating as a symbol of strength and resilience.
In the music video for “Us,” Ibarra elaborates on her appreciation for the Filpina identity. In one scene, a crowd of Filpina women sit and later dance as the rappers perform amongst them. In another scene, women are shown wearing cultural outfits featuring intricately designed fans and headpieces as they perform traditional dances. As the camera pans over each woman or group of women, what stands out above all else is their fierce glances and facial expressions. Staring directly into the camera, these women show that they are not to be messed with— that they own their culture, bodies, and identities. With an all-female Filpina cast, Ibarra shows the power in women supporting each other, standing side by side in solidarity.
Ibarra’s medium of choice —rap— elevates the power behind her messages. Rap is a very direct style of music, with the ability to punctuate words and phrases with ferocity that a melodic song wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Having grown up in the Bay Area of California, where hip-hop is a big part of the community, listening to artists like Tupac and Ice Cube, Ibarra’s music draws from those influences, demonstrating how her music cannot be separated from the hyphenated American part of her identity. Taking advantage of rap’s focus on language, Ibarra raps in three languages: English, Tagalog, and Waray. Using the mixture of these languages, she is able to directly address Filipina-American listeners, who have the most authentic and direct understanding of what she is trying to convey. At the same time, rapping in her native languages allows non-native speakers to experience and become exposed to the beauty of Tagalog and Waray.
Ibarra’s crowning achievement is her music’s ability to bear the heavy burden of authenticity: she intentionally centers the harshness of reality over the convenience of romanticized delusion.
Through her music, Ibarra speaks to Filipinos directly, empowering them while also giving their culture and identity visibility in America, where mainstream music has been whitewashed and is largely a masculine industry. Ibarra’s crowning achievement is her music’s ability to bear the heavy burden of authenticity: she intentionally centers the harshness of reality over the convenience of romanticized delusion. Rapping “these women are Gods, you already know,” Ibarra presents an unquestionable truth to listeners: that Filipina women are beautiful and powerful.