Heritage is not necessarily about a certain culture someone belongs to. While it usually signifies what was transmitted by a predecessor, it is essentially something personal which can be a mother’s love that a person is holding on to.
The budding artist, Deneza, offers music that hints at what it’s like to be a First Generation Filipino-American who struggled to pursue passion over practicality. She has always loved creating stories through songs. Although, she pursued a different path which is nursing to honor the immigrant sacrifice of her parents.
“I didn’t want to be a nurse, I wanted to go to art school and be a singer-songwriter and artist,” she said. This is probably a common situation for many immigrants, but a calling can never be ignored. When she was ready to quit, her mother encountered a terrible illness. All she ever wished for was for Deneza to graduate. She eventually did—six days prior to her mother’s passing.
Deneza is not particularly fond of her patriarchal family, expecting her to take her mother’s place of working for everyone while they decide for her life. She is also overcoming trauma from a family member who refuses to be accountable for their hurtful actions. Despite her unpleasant experiences, she did not want to disrespect her roots.
She faced a dead end when she was disowned. Then, all she had was her music.
Her tale has become a testament to how one can honor the duality of loving an immigrant family such as hers—both unfeeling and forgiving. It can be said that her heritage is deeply rooted in her mother’s love which has mainly shown her selflessness while also acknowledging that there are callous parts she has to face.
“Something inside me spoke to me even if everyone around me was telling me no. I just knew that I needed to do something else. Be something else,” she quipped. For the longest time, she has been afraid of saying no and being reprimanded for being herself. She seemed to be stuck on a treadmill to fill a void by making her parents proud based on their own terms.
Perhaps, it is about time that more should tell stories about the dim parts of one’s heritage and how they can be a source of strength while being careful not to romanticize their struggles. “I traded so much to be able to be the figure for our community that I’m trying to be now. And for that, I am honored,” she said. Her music hums the tunes of sacrifice, survival, and tenderness. She was able to translate her somber days into stories of courage. “I felt like as a person, I could break the cycle of generational trauma,” she added.
Today, she has been releasing songs such as “daughter of immigrants” which is now empowering many “little brown girls” by telling them it is okay to follow a similar path. This was born out of her yearning for her mother, being sorry for not complying with the role her family wants her to play. “I kept singing the words: mama, we gonna make it,” she shared when asked about how this first single materialized. It has eventually become her most recognized song and her proudest project thus far.
Her followers can expect her future releases to continue to surround stories about being a first-generation child of immigrants, especially the mental health experiences that are unique to that upbringing.
“I want to make my stories within my music its own genre here,” she said. There will be singles every few months so her followers should stay tuned!
It is remarkable for Deneza to experience both worlds of being a full-time nurse at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago and also being a full-time artist. She managed to face all odds with her truth as her salvation.
For sure, her mama is proud as she honors not only her heritage but also herself.