Profile Piece: Originally written June 26 ,2019
On Saturday June 24, Filipinos from all over the Bay Area gathered for the Kalayaan Festival in San Francisco’s Union Square, commemorating Philippine’s Independence day and celebrating Filipino culture. This festival included a traditional fashion show, dancing, and a ceremony to honor the community heroes of the year.
Ruby Ibarra entered the stage with her band The Balikbayans. During her performance, hands flew up in the air, a crowd with people ranging from four to eighty began jumping up and down, and Filipino flags rose up, waving back and forth to the beat of her music.
With an album that reached success and thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify, Ruby Ibarra is a San Francisco Bay Area rapper whose lyrical finesse seeks to tell her life story and sparks discussion on Filipinx-American cultural norms.
How does she do it?
Ruby Ibarra, a scientist at ThermoFisher, wakes up at 6AM in the morning, heads to work. Yet throughout the day, she interlaces her art and passions into the life that she’s lives. During her breaks sometimes goes in her car to talk on radio show over her music or write music, goes back to work, goes home, eats, write, and sleep at 1 or 2AM. On the weekends, she performs at concerts. And during the day, when a particular line pops up into her head, she’s sure to have a pen and paper by her side. Whether it be in driving to work or performing daily tasks as in grocery shopping.
Though she leads a busy life with her day job, she never tires of writing music in the late hours, for Ibarra states that it’s something that she loves and something that she must do to connect her to the world around her and especially to her own roots and community.
The Origin Behind Her Lyrics:
Born in the Philippines, Ibarra moved with her family to America when she was five. Facing challenges that not only come starting fresh in a new country, she had to fight for what it meant to be a Filipina amongst a culture already so divided. Her songs explore the issues of colorism, classism, dialect discrimination, and sexism ingrained in a country suffering the repercussions of a long history of colonialism.
“It’s something that I didn’t realize until college until I took ethnic studies classes, that I saw that it’s all deeply rooted in colonialism. The Philippines was colonized by both Spain and the U.S. so it’s that mentality that you gain from the oppressor. That you have to look like them, that you have to mirror yourself to look like them. And that’s something that I especially wanted to dismantle in my album Circa91 that talks about immigration. Because when we think about something like immigration, when we move to another country to start a new life, things like identity and how we see the world and fit in it, are all things that come to mind,” Ibarra says.
Her lyrics also break down beauty standards that tear groups and individuals apart.
These institutions working, the devil prove he lurkin’
They shoot us down but first when we play the part and curtains
Open up til we prefer them, ’til we don’t know we hurtin’
’Til we become a version: a self that’s lost it’s worth
She explains: “Something that I always recognized even when I was a young kid. Me myself, I am on the whiter spectrum. But my sister, she’s basically a dark skin version of me. Growing up, we were always compared and I remember going to a family party with people coming up to us and saying, ‘How come you’re darker than your sister?’ Basically, it hurt her. And even seeing commercials of plastic surgery and skin whitening soaps and lotions, I was like, why the hell are they pushing this crap?”
Through her lyrics and high-energy demeanor on stage, she encouraged the audience to not only be proud of their Filipino heritage on this day, but to also be excited, to be hopeful for the freedom that comes with banding together as a culture and a people.
Though she reaches out mainly to the Filipino audience, she says that women from different minority communities have come out to her saying how much they relate to her music.
She closes, “I realize that these feelings, the themes that I write do not pertain to only Filipino culture and the women inside it, but it’s more universal than that. And I plan to write more about topics that don’t just have to do with just being Filipino, but more about love, hurt and pain, in broader perspectives.”