Rapper Ruby Ibarra Voices her Immigrant Story to Empower and Build Community
Words By Patrick Manalo
Video by Kevin Sutardji (KuraKura Productions)
When it comes to sharing stories and beliefs, Ruby Ibarra is unapologetic. The Bay Area rapper has stayed true to herself and her immigrant experience to not only build her presence in hip hop but also bring light to her community.
Since she was 5 years old, Ibarra recognized the power of voice as an instrument. Her kindergarten years were spent watching daytime programming, picking up the flow and beats of Filipino rapper Francis Magalona. When she later immigrated with her family to the San Francisco Bay Area, she would hear 90’s hip hop legends Tupac, Lauryn Hill, and iconic Bay Area rappers Hieroglyphics and Mac Dre playing throughout every street of her neighborhood.
Ruby Ibarra keeps her music raw to the core, using the dialects of Tagalog and Waray in her lyrics to draw personal connection to her immigrant experience. “You can’t have an immigrant story without also including language in it… you can’t step into a household without hearing the beautiful sounds of another language” says the rapper. Ibarra was drawn into the percussive nature of Tagalog and Waray and has carried that into her own cadence. “I knew that I couldn’t make my story as impactful if I didn’t include my native tongue as well,” says Ibarra.
Ibarra creates music to not only build herself up as a rapper but also to be a voice of her community. In her latest album, CIRCA91, released in October 2017, Ibarra shares her own immigrant experiences that, to her surprise, many struggling immigrants find relatable. Her personal accounts touch on the larger themes of defining one’s identity, balancing two different cultures, and finding a home.
Along with making music as a voice for her community, she also helps build community. She co-founded the Pinays Rising Scholarship for Arts, Academics, an Activists to empower Pinays pursuing higher education. The rapper continuously works on how to elevate her music for the community, whether it is through her lyrics, her shows, or activities within the community.