We had the good fortune of connecting with Raye Zaragoza and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Raye, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in Manhattan, New York! I grew up in a 400 sq. food studio apartment with my Mom, Dad, sister, and brother. In this tiny apartment, we had a melting pot of cultures – my Dad is of Indigenous (Mexican & Akimel O’otham) descent, and my mother is from Japan (and is also Taiwanese). Being mixed race has greatly influenced who I am today, because it is my greatest passion to uplift diversity in the entertainment industry through storytelling. Growing up in New York City also greatly influenced the trajectory of my career – my Dad was on broadway when I was a kid, and I always knew that I wanted to perform for a living as well. New York made me feel like anything was possible, and my dreams were within reach if I worked hard enough.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have been writing songs and performing my music publicly for the past 10 years, and my music has taken me places I never thought were possible. I got my start playing open mics, farmers markets, laundromats (yep), and outdoor shopping centers, and eventually made my way to opening for bands at amphitheaters and writing the music for a Netflix animated series! From day one, I have anyways followed my intuition and gut in my career – I’ve made some risky decisions like not going to college, and staying independent as an artist – and both of those decisions are the foundation for my career today. My journey has never been easy, but every moment of it has been an exciting adventure. Being a woman of color in Americana/Folk Music has been an interesting road – especially in the early years, people would not take me seriously in the Americana genre because I was writing songs about the experience of a person of color – which were often labeled as “protest songs.” It was an interesting thing to experience, but has given me more ammunition to speak out about diversity within the genre, and the music industry at large. It’s been my mission to show the world that telling diverse stories isn’t always necessarily political music – it’s just music and deserves a spot in the mainstream! Since I started playing music in 2012, I feel that the industry has absolutely become a more inclusive and equitable place – although, it still has a long way to go.
It has been an amazing experience over the past two years writing songs for the Netflix animated series – Spirit Rangers. The show is about a mixed Chumash and Cowlitz Indigenous family who lives in a National park. The kids are park rangers who help the human world, and can transform into their animal spirit selves to help the spirits in Spirit Park. The show is the first of its kind, and it’s an incredible honor to be a part of a show that will help Indigenous kids feel seen. When I got my start writing songs, I never would’ve expected getting to write music for a kids show – and I am so incredibly happy that my journey brought me to this opportunity. It’s the best job I could’ve asked for !
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, I am biased, and have to say that Long Beach is the best part of LA. My Long Beach to do list with this friend would be:
– Paddle boarding around Naples Island
– Roller skating on the bike path
– Eating lunch at Sura, my favorite Korean restaurant
– Lunch at Sushi Mafia, my favorite Sushi restaurant
– Go to the downtown Long Beach Night Market on Thursday night
– Go to 4th Friday on Retro Row
and some LA proper activities:
– See a concert at the Greek theatre
– Get Jeni’s ice cream
– Go for a hike on Fryman canyon
– Get seafood in Malibu
– Go swimming and paddle boarding at Manhattan beach
It would be a fun week!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shoutout goes to the amazing Karissa Valenica – the creator and showrunner of Spirit Rangers, the animated children’s show that I write music for. Karissa is empowering indigenous youth around the world with her work, and truly changing the game in animation. It’s such an honor to work for her, and with her. She inspires me everyday to be the best songwriter I can be, and keep moving forward even when it gets tough! I am so grateful that she’s trusted me to create songs for her show!
Photo credits: Kristen Drum, Erica Elan, and Luke Frees