In the midst of a new-wave feminist movement and a president who continuously bombards the media with hate speech comes an artist whose emergence signifies the return of the anti-establishment protest song: Native Americana artist Raye Zaragoza.
Zaragoza carries her multi-cultural heritage with her, sporting colorful earrings reminiscent of her O’odham culture (an indigenous tribe of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico). Her Mexican, Taiwanese, Japanese and Native American-mixed identity has inspired her musical career since the release of her Heroine EP in 2015. Zaragoza made her Paste debut in November 2016 amidst her involvement with the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests and the recognition she gained with her song “In the River,” a single which made Paste’s list of “7 Modern Protest Songs by People of Color.” A year later, Zaragoza released her debut album Fight For You, from which “American Dream” is the opening track.
Zaragoza’s video for “American Dream,” which you can watch exclusively at Paste below, is intrinsically introspective. The dark and smoky scenes in which Zaragoza appears while playing guitar speak to the artist’s inner thoughts and pair naturally with the repetition in her lyrics, as she starts the first lines of the verse with, “I’ve been thinking … ” Zaragoza tells it as it is—her unencumbered lyrics speak directly to a real and obvious suppressor, first from the perspective of a child watching the ongoing violence in the news, then speaking on behalf of her grandmother who, Zaragoza recalls, was taken to a boarding school at a young age for cultural assimilation. “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,” Zaragoza says.
It is in that call to change that the message of “American Dream” lies. Each character seen in the music video represents an aspect of Zaragoza’s identity. The three main protagonists, an middle-aged man, a young woman and a multi-racial family, sit at home in a dimly light room, watching scenes inspired by the destruction and violence that came after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The characters’ individual journeys end with them turning off the news and making a collective choice for definitive action; we then cut to Zaragoza breaking the fourth wall and asking the audience directly to make a choice for change.
In regards to the message of the video, Zaragoza explains:
“American Dream” tells the story of my family and challenges the outdated concept of the American Dream with its white picket fence and house in the suburbs, because it’s never been truly inclusive of all American people. In the last year alone, the American people have been under a constant barrage of distressing news, a “fake news” war waged by our President against the free press, and day after day our country feels increasingly divided. Hatred and fear have an overt national presence like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. It’s time to rise up, turn off the television and take a stand. The days of apathy are over—either we do something about the injustice happening around our country, or we admit to being a part of the problem. We can rewrite the American Dream into a new storyline that looks out for all of us. It’s a big task, but as the chorus of the song says, “Change is a choice, and it can start with me.”
Zaragoza symbolizes what modern American protest music could very well become, a resurgence of ‘60s-inspired protest songs blended with idealistic lyrics that are both timely and deeply profound. Her fresh sound raises hope amidst an ongoing surge of media wars and conflict journalism, making her one of the most politically relevant artists in her genre.
Check out the Paste-exclusive video for “American Dream” below, then watch Zaragoza perform the track at the Paste Studio in New York circa 2017.