Artists should be involved in the conversation, not just the subjects of it. That’s where the Artists’ Tribune comes in — we’re giving your favourite singers, songwriters and rappers the platform to talk about whatever they want, however they want, completely unfiltered.
When I was six-years old, I would go up to our apartment building’s rooftop to paint. Up there, I would smell my mother’s cooking in the kitchen below, and soon after she would call me down to eat. I would keep painting, ignoring the calls, and eventually she would have to come up to get me, and make me eat, wash, or go to bed.
I always knew I would be an artist. There was never a doubt in my mind. I had no other plans but to become a professional artist. And I mean an artist in every sense of the word.
My bedroom was my gallery. My bed, my work table. I would sleep on the couch in the living room so that my drawings and materials could remain on my bed. It must have been incredibly frustrating for my older sister, who was not interested in having murals painted with oil pastels on our walls.
By age 11, I was performing in hardcore, metal and punk bands. I took it very seriously. I performed with my entire heart and the intention to do it forever. By age 13, I was a well-known singer in my hometown of Barranquilla in Colombia. I was one of few girls leading a noise and hardcore band, and was younger by five to ten years than everyone around me. People saw me as a talented artist with a strong voice and a clear point of view, not as a child.
A few months before I turned 15 years old, my mother made the difficult decision to leave our home country and move to the USA. At the time I did not understand it. My sister’s safety had been jeopardized, so my mother and sister packed their bags and moved. They left me and my younger sibling behind with the intention of picking us up in a few months after they were established in our new home.
My immigration story started the moment I get separated from my mother. It was almost five years later at 19 years old when I finally saw her again. She had moved to London, Ontario, where we lived together. It was a happy, emotional time. I had left my life behind in Barranquilla. I left behind family, friends, art, music, my band, everything. I was 19, and nervous about turning 20. But being a mother at 20 years old was my biggest dream art project and I just had to fulfill it.
I met someone and he liked me enough to have a baby with me. So, at 21 I gave birth. And I was happy. With a baby in my arms, I was finally complete. Now all I needed to do was make money and support myself and my kid…by myself.
When I decided to have my kid, I was still in high school. I went to an arts high school called Beal Art in London, where they would kick you out when you turned 21. So, I went there from 19 to 21 years old, got my English credits (so that I could attend university), and learned as much hands-on free art techniques as possible. My kid was a regular visitor to the art studio at this high school. Breastfeeding by the printing press surrounded by 17-year-old white kids — it was priceless.
When I made the move with my three year old to Toronto after high school, I knew the transition would be hard. I had no family or friends there to support me. I was attending university, but university wasn’t holding my focus. I knew I needed to use my four years in school as my timeline to become someone in the Toronto art scene. Music, art, and taking care of my son were my only worries. Little by little, I started meeting people and getting booked to play small shows here and there. I began to learn how to record myself. After my kid went to sleep, my headphones became my music studio. I blocked everything out – my separation from my husband, my insecurities that came with single motherhood, the chuckles and ridicule from “friends.”
I shared my room with my son. My bedroom was his bedroom. It was his playroom, it was my workspace for school. It was our home. I rarely accepted invitations to go to parties or shows. I needed to justify leaving my kid with a sitter. Why would I leave my home and my kid, even for one night, if I am not the show, if I am not performing or exhibiting or speaking? If I was not the main focus, I wanted to figure out how to become the main focus. How will I become the reason other parents will get a sitter to go see my show?
Not one person, party, art gallery, show, or event would be enough to convince me to leave my own work and my son. I had too much to prove to myself, and too much responsibility for others back home. I had my brother, sister, mother, and other family back in Colombia to help out, and I really wanted to figure out how to get out of this three bedroom apartment and into my own space with my son. I had to get rid of those fake friends who made me feel bad for being a young mother. I needed to make sure my new album would get done. A few years and several roommates later, I got to the point where I could rent the whole apartment, just me and my son. I still have yet to figure out how to put down a payment for a home in this overpriced city of Toronto, but I will do it in less than five years.
The more confident I became, the more independence I had as an artist. Along the way, I managed to share some of that knowledge with the next generations of artists in the city and beyond.
I had no time to worry about boyfriends, lovers, or other people’s drama. I intended to be THE VOICE of the present and future of music in Canada, and do it all before it was time to pick up my son from daycare.
It took two years for me to find my first true real friend, a kid almost five years younger than me, who would constantly test my patience, and somehow become one of my biggest emotional supports to this day. This kid approached me after a concert and told me we should play music together. I told him that the only way it could happen was if he wears a dress on stage, and if he is a good babysitter. I did not really need him to wear the dress. I simply wanted to make sure he did not frown about the idea of being feminine. To this day, we remain in each other’s lives, like mother and teenage son. He still makes me angry. It’s complicated. But he was the first to be interested in what I needed to say.
We started playing shows together. More people joined, some stayed, some left. I met many friends from the latinx community, the trans community, the black femme community, the bruxas community, the theatre and dance community, all of who has something beautiful and true to say. They became my closest friends, my siblings, my support system, and my son’s many aunties and cousins. Once I found a real community that not only loved me but also supported my goals of becoming a successful artist, who happens to be a single mom, my career started to take off. I was asking for more money and I was getting it. The more confident I became, the more independence I had as an artist. Along the way, I managed to share some of that knowledge with the next generations of artists in the city and beyond.
When I was in university, I did not have great teachers. I had no one inspiring me and pushing me to be the best I could be. I met wonderful professors along the way absolutely, and I know it’s hard to focus on just one student when they are underpaid and overworked, but I never experienced the same kind of support that I had at Beal Art High School in London. I knew I was alone in university so I said to myself, “When I get the opportunity to be a mentor, I will be the best.” No one parallels me in determination.
My motivation as a young artist who happens to be a single mother is intense. My energy intimidates people, especially when I don’t like them. Most people I work with have pure hearts, but I do encounter people in positions of power and immense privilege who are not used to being challenged, and I never let them intimidate me. It becomes a competition at that point You think you can tell me what to do because you are older, white and famous? No. You cannot tell me what to do. I have been an artist all my life. If you do not trust me, I cannot trust you.
This attitude keeps the wrong people away and it carries me through everything I do. If I do not fight, my son will always be living in a rental unit. That is not going to be my fate. I will give my son everything he needs and more.
My son was planned. My whole life is planned. I cannot stop my vision and I cannot stop being an artist. I have no interest in interacting with people who are not focused. I have no reason to talk to people who have nothing interesting or inspiring to say. I cannot be bothered with people who look down on me for deciding to be a young artist and mother. In fact, I am pregnant with my next kid. I cannot be bothered with people who cannot fathom an immigrant, single mother, Afro Caribbean with Indigenous roots, who doesn’t sing in English or French, who is the next big thing in Canada. I am doing it and it is only the beginning.