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Photos /   Kelsey Bennett

Story / Brooke Segarra

Hair / Andrita Renee Using T3 Micro

Makeup /  Laramie for MAC Cosmetics

Styling / Phil Gomez

Set Design /  Tafv Sampson & Panteha Abareshi

Alynda Segarra might be a name that you’re getting hip to now, but her band Hurray for the Riff Raff has a Spotify discography that stretches back to 2012. The Bronx-raised artist’s latest body of work, The Navigator, has been stirring some hairy conversations around identity for casually liberal music listeners and has been gaining critical acclaim from the most coveted of critics. What’s changed for the Puerto Rican roots-conscious folk singer since 2012? For one, “The idea that I’m not allowed to say that I’m Puerto Rican because I look white, doesn’t really exist to me anymore.”

“Hungry Ghost,” one of The Navigator’s brilliant stand-alone tracks, can be taken as a declaration. A declaration that one is ready to embrace a personalized definition of womanhood and understand the right to take up space and demand self-respect in the world. However, to listen to the track without understanding its context would be a tragedy and a great injustice to the lived experience of the navigator. The beauty of ownership and cultural identity and the perils of cultural appropriation and gentrification are at the center of the album. During the writing of The Navigator Alynda kept coming back to the question of “Who in our society is considered to have value?”

Alynda’s musical journey started at seventeen when she left home and headed west, hitchhiking and hopping trains in search of the artistic life she was determined to live. “I’ll never forget the feeling of having to beg for money in the street. It was pride for me to be like ‘I just have to do this on my own.’ It was this weird thing of me not asking my family for any help, but asking strangers for help. What I learned is what it feels like for people to really treat you like you’re just not fully a human being. They tell you you don’t mean anything because you’re kind of dirty and you don’t have any money. So now I go through the world and people treat me nice because I’m an artist or whatever, but I will never forget what it feels like to have people look at you with disdain. To be woken up by cops when you’re sleeping outside and just being treated like shit. It really opens your mind to these lines that we draw for who matters and who doesn’t.”

Alynda has built her platform from the ground up. Now that she has it, she must navigate the bizarre territory of having what sidelined her, now be every journalist’s punchline to their headline. “Sometimes it feels like being fetishized. Sometimes it feels like I’m being consumed by an audience that is very different from me. People who are like, ‘Man, I feel so liberal cause I like this girl.’ So there’s that side, and then there’s the side where I feel so at home. I don’t have to try to be something anymore. Until like last year, I felt like I was not allowed to say I’m Puerto Rican. Most people think that I’m just white- whatever that means. For Latin people this is a conversation that’s just so nuanced. What does it mean to be white when you’re a Latinx person? I felt like I didn’t fit enough into any of the things that I identified as for the outside world to accept it. It feels very freeing to be like ‘I don’t know world. This is what I am. I know who I am, and this is what it’s about.’”

Meanwhile with visibility there are a multitude of factors to consider, especially when people sign you up for a spokesperson position that you didn’t apply for. Alynda is extremely conscious of the territory. “I try to be very intentional. Overall I think we need to be a little more understanding that everyone is going to be problematic. Like there are levels of being problematic, but what I worry about, most of all, is being seen as somebody who’s trying to speak for the “more” people of color. I’m just trying to talk for myself, and if people relate to that than that’s great. I definitely don’t want to be in the position of spokesperson, because I have a lot of fucking privilege. I think being a Latinx person you end up being in the middle of race in our country a lot. You don’t know where you belong or where you fit in. You’re not sure what you can say, and what you can’t say. I try to be clear that I am an ally for all people. I want all people to be free. I want to stand with all people of color and with all queer people, but I’m not trying to speak for them.”

Currently residing in her adopted home of New Orleans, Alynda has not abandoned the strife of her people in New York, particularly in the Bronx. Her journey has been a spiritual one outside of a Google search. Alynda was deeply affected by the passing of her last remaining grandparent, her grandmother and the matriarch of her family. “I was able to say goodbye to her, and have this moment where I just felt so thankful. Everything she did, all the risks she took, all of the work she did, has made my life what is. I just want to make her proud all the time and work with her in mind. That really started this quest of me asking ‘What does it mean to do work for my ancestors and healing work for myself?’” Alynda began to read a lot of books, listen to a lot of music, and delve into a vast history that we simply are not taught. ‘I was trying to figure out for me, what it means to be a Latinx woman and get in touch with the history of oppression, colonization, and ancestral pain. I started to really feel that pain. I think a lot of people feel it when they come from lineages of oppression. They say that trauma is passed on in DNA and it affects you whether it was in your daily life or not. You can feel the pain of your grandparents and what they went through, even if you have moved up in monetary status. So I explored how I could heal that for my ancestors and for future generations.”

However, in 2017 it is still an uphill battle. “I really worry about gentrification. Leaving New York, learning its history and then coming back and seeing it disappear is really painful. It’s scary and I really don’t know what to do about it. Like how do you stop gentrification? I have no idea. It made me want to write this album. Where is everyone going to go? I know they’re disappearing and getting kicked out of the city. That idea can get global as well. It goes to the island. It goes to Puerto Rico. So much funding is getting cut. It really feels like this mentality of ‘Just get out of our way. Business is coming in. We want to own this island.’ That’s what it feels like for neighborhoods in New York.” On The Navigator, especially the tracks, “Pa’lante” and “Rican Beach,” Alynda does not shy away from addressing gentrification’s realities. As she does so, she is also bringing these issues into liberal sectors who are not so familiar with the people and stories behind the issues. It’s caused situations like Alynda tweeting “a note to journalists: the song pa’lante is not a call to “be something” it’s about the pressure to assimilate & prove your worth in $$$.”

We need poets in these times. Alynda is contributing to the poetry of our time by articulating her truths. As a Alynda told me, “For our generation, the lines are getting very blurred. We’re getting into second, third generation people of immigrants. We’re becoming queerer as a generation. We’re becoming very feminist. We’re really changing a lot and we’re outgrowing a lot of the lines that use to be there.”



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