Raye Zaragoza on writing protest songs & her grandmother’s story

Raye Zaragoza is an award-winning singer/songwriter and performer whose multinational heritage (Native American (O’odham), Mexican, Taiwanese and Japanese) deeply informs her music. This perspective can be heard in her anthem ‘American Dream’. The powerful and thought-provoking single is inspired by the destruction of Donald Trump’s election, the lack of mainstream media for Standing Rock and the struggles Zaragoza faced growing up as a female multi-cultural youth in the US.

Inspired by numerous elements which have impacted Zaragoza’s life, she tells the tale of her great grandmother and how was forced into a boarding school to be raised by a European woman, separated from her parents and siblings. Zaragoza reveals, “Her story haunts me, because so many people don’t realize the awful things that have happened in this country just within the past 100 years. The only way to move forward is to acknowledge that ‘change is a choice that can start with you”.

Check out Raye Zaragoza’s “American Dream” below:

Girl Gang music sat down with Raye for an exclusive Q&A:

1) When did you first know you wanted to a be an artist? 

“I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to express my art. I didn’t start writing songs until I was 18. Growing up, I thought I wanted to be an actress. I loved being on stage. I would dance and sing at every school talent show or musical. But after high school, I realized that it wasn’t for me and I started to write my own songs. I think I knew for sure at my very first real gig. I played at the House of Blues on Sunset at the Voodoo Lounge in 2012. I remember looking around at the restaurant, looking at the audience, and then looking at my guitar and thinking “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

2) The lyric about your mom [in this song]. I’d love to hear more about this? 

“The third verse is about my great-grandmother. She was taken away from her people as a child and put into boarding school. She was raised by a European woman in Arizona and separated from her parents and siblings. Her story haunts me, because so many people don’t realize the awful things that have happened in this country just within the past 100 years.”

3) What was the inspiration behind the development of this video? 

“The song ‘American Dream’ was inspired by numerous things, including Donald Trump’s election, Standing Rock hardly being in mainstream media, my whole life’s journey, and my great-grandmother’s story. The first verse is very much about how mainstream media is brainwashing us and doesn’t tell us everything. Standing Rock was hardly covered in mainstream media. The lyric ‘hate can’t be the face of the American Dream’ is a direct jab at Donald Trump. I can’t tell you how many nights I stared at the television in tears listening to him say racist comments about mexicans or other marginalized racial groups. At 24 years old, it deeply affected me. I can’t imagine how an eight year old child would feel hearing the same things. The second verse is about how I grew up watching television shows of happy ‘all american’ families, that of course didn’t look like me or my family. All I ever wanted was that life. All I ever wanted was to live in a nice house like ‘american families’ should and be happy like they are on TV. But growing up, I realized that this ‘American Dream’ was something that many people don’t think people like me should have – and that this ‘American Dream’ is not associated with people of color in a mainstream way. ‘I hear you everyday, saying it’s going to be okay’ This line is about how so many people in my life have tried to convince me that racism doesn’t exist anymore – but I know firsthand that that’s not true. ‘I know, we’ve got a long way to go. But I’ve got to believe that change is a choice and it can start with me’ – This line references the attitude that so many people have that we can’t really make a difference as one person. But no matter how far we have to go, a few steps forward as one person is still doing more than standing still or taking a few steps back.”

4) How do you get past fears and insecurities to create anyways? 

“I think about my ancestors and all they went through to get me to where I am at today. My grandmother worked in the fields, and then in a cannery when she was a teenager. If she can endure that, I can work my hardest, face my fears everyday, and try to make the world a better place with my art. I also always make sure to surround myself with amazing people. I’ve gotten hate messages before, and sometimes it can be really hard to not care. But my friends and family always help me see the bigger picture and keep moving forward!

I always live by the saying ‘Do what scares you.'”

Raye performs her music all over the United States as well as across Europe, where she spent five weeks touring in summer 2017. She’ll be returning to tour Germany in January 2018. Her music has been featured on Democracy Now! and on numerous lists of the best modern-day protest songs, including those by Paste Magazine, What Culture, and Overblown. She has also performed live sessions for Paste and Daytrotter.

Raye Zaragoza

Check out Raye Zaragoza’s  Girl Gang Picks


“My favorite artist over the past few years has been AURORA. She is an incredible young artist from Norway. Her music has inspired me so much to be a true ‘warrior’ and keep going.”


“I also love Billie Eilish – her tunes are so great.”

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