Beyond Virality: Sarah Palafox Is Here To Change the Face of Regional Mexican Music

Photo by Edward "E-Dub" Rios. Courtesy of the artist

In a recent video captured at a gathering at home, Sarah Palafox (aka Sarah La Morena) belts out a Mariachi-backed cover of Jenni Rivera’s “Que Me Vas A Dar.” Towards the end of the video, she proclaims the lyrics “¡Yo tambien, yo también quiero ganar!” Soon after she posted the video on social media, hundreds of thousands of viewers eagerly re-shared her heart-wrenching ballad. The chorus’ ending has since become a self-asserting prophecy for the Black American-Mexican singer.

Palafox, whose voice has been compared to Selena’s due to its hypnotic intonation, was born in Los Angeles, California. Soon after, she was adopted into a Mexican-American family that later moved back to their native home of Zacatecas, Mexico, where she grew up. The 23-year-old is heavily influenced by the time she spent singing in church there. In her senior year of high school, Palafox joined a group in which she gained her confidence as a Regional Mexican singer. She then consistently uploaded videos to her social media until she was tapped by her current record label, Style Giant Entertainment.

Palafox has ‘an unwavering desire to win.’

After she released her take on Rivera’s classic, Palafox received praise for her illustrious sound and authenticity. The Mexican-American singer’s newly-found fame also attracted unwarranted backlash from people who scrutinized her and claimed she was “appropriating” the genre. The criticism rehashed conversations about the need for many non-Black Latines to confront their ignorance and racial biases.

“The thing is that people commented and tried to break me and make me feel bad,” Palafox tells Remezcla. “But at the end of the day, they were part of the reason the video went more viral… things turned out even better.”

With a recently finished, forthcoming album, Palafox proves she is unfazed. Through that and more, she reaffirms the words sung in her aforementioned video; Palafox has “an unwavering desire to win.” We spoke about her artistic journey, thoughts on dealing with the haters, source of inspiration and more:

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity purposes.

It seems a lot of people who saw the video had never seen a Black woman singing mariachi, singing regional music—do you feel that that is the case in general? Do you feel like you’re actually one of a few, or is your lived experience different?

No, I think that I am one of the few because when you do see Black women singing, it’s usually not Regional music… you know? You see Celia Cruz pero ella cantaba otro género and Cardi B también a veces la he escuchado cantar pero es más rap y cosas asi so I think, in general, with this genre, I am one of the few. I know you have El Compa Negro, he does more Corridos and stuff like that but as for Regional Mexicano I think I am one of the few.

If I can help just one person with my story that would be amazing.

When you were starting off, and even now, do you feel like that’s a discouraging factor for you or is that motivating?

It’s super motivating for me. It’s for sure motivating for me because a dream of mine has always been to share my story because growing up I literally just always felt alone and different and I felt like I was the only one. Growing up and seeing different people and hearing other people’s experiences, [I now know] I’m not the only one and if I can help just one person with my story that would be amazing. I feel like in general with Black and Browns [people], music, in general, is something that’s used to unite and if I can change the perspective of one person and get someone to change their mind about how they feel about the other or come together then I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing, you know?

As you mentioned, you’re still one of the few—but hopefully, your story will help motivate other Black little girls, other women who don’t see themselves reflected typically in the genre. Who did you draw inspiration from growing up or even today?

I think for sure just seeing Jenni Rivera and everything she went through and all of the struggles she faced, how she still came out on top no matter how many people tried to bring her down I think I really empathize with that, and I mean that really did motivate me because when negative things are constantly happening in your life, it’s hard to keep a positive outlook and still want to succeed. I just feel like looking at her was like ‘damn, she really overcame everything. She’s been through so much and she really did come out on top.’

She’s been through so much and she really did come out on top.

She’s a good choice. Obviously, we all go through different struggles; outside of this particular instance which, as you said, turned into a major win actually—if you feel comfortable—what are some of the struggles that you’ve faced that have made you who you are today as an artist and a person?

I’m actually kind of glad that I went through a lot of things growing up because I would constantly hear people talking about me in Spanish because they didn’t think I understood and I was constantly told ‘you’re not Mexican, you’re not one of us.’ Back then it would make me really angry but I’m glad that I went through all of that because I feel like now I’m reaching my goals and hearing all of this negativity… If I was still weak-minded, I would respond with hate and anger and it would set me back a lot so I think that everything I went through made me stronger and that’s the reason why I’m able to read these comments and just brush it off. It does make me sad, not because it’s hurting me personally, but [because] people still really think this way and are literally racist and hate people just because of the color of their skin. That’s what makes me sad, but I feel like now that I’ve been given this platform, I can really make a difference and educate people. I’ve seen a lot of Latinos commenting back and sending them documentaries or sending them articles to educate and inform and I think that that’s just the best way to handle everything.

A learning opportunity for them. At the end of the day, it felt like the hate was drowned with positive remarks; overall, I saw people were really into you and your talent and wanting to know more. How did you feel, on the flip side, reading the positive comments, and do you feel that one outweighed the other?

For sure. It’s always with every negative comment there’s always like 100 good comments and that’s just what keeps me going. I mean even if there [were] 10 negative comments and one good one, I feel like that good one is what would keep me going.

Photo by Edward “E-Dub” Rios. Courtesy of the artist
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What you would say to motivate someone who’s kind of on the fence.

I would say just go for it—I know that I was literally raised in the culture and grew up with the culture but I know that there’s a lot of people in Compton, a lot of Black people in Compton around a lot of Mexicans all the time and they grow up around that and if that’s what they feel in their heart, I mean why not? Why would you be so opposed to somebody appreciating your culture? Because it’s not appropriation, it’s literally appreciation. I feel like anybody could be honored that someone else would want to learn about their culture, would want to share it and show love to it.

Do you feel that it’s different when it’s a white Spaniard or generally white, non-Black person who tries to take on different types of art forms that aren’t naturally theirs?

I think that as long as you really truly love it and it’s something that you feel just go for it. If you’re, like you said, a white Spaniard or whatever and you sing rap or you sing R&B and that’s what truly makes you happy I say go for it but it’s a different thing when you’re making fun of a Black person for this or for that and you go and do the same thing but now you’re getting all these positive remarks and all this stuff i feel like that’s a different thing. but if you truly appreciate the culture, you truly are trying to educate yourself and understand and you really love it then I don’t see anything bad with that.

Breaking barriers, little by little we’re really gonna see the change.

Lastly, it feels like there’s this unification of Black people across different genres—I’m thinking specifically of genres that are typically classified as Latin. For example, some Black people in Urbano have come together—Sech and Choquibtown and a few other folks come to mind. There’s this moment of Black folks really making themselves known in their respective genres. Do you feel there’s an opportunity there, no solamente para ti pero other talented Black people, too, and Black Latinos specifically? Do you think this moment could be the start of something bigger?

Yeah, for sure… I mean even with reggaeton, Travis Scott jumped on a track with Rosalia and Snoop Dogg hopped on a track with Banda MS and to me it’s like ‘damn that’s what it’s all about, being unified.’ Look at what beautiful things we create when we work together. And I feel like so many people are against us as it is and us being against each other just makes no sense but I think that [by] breaking barriers, little by little we’re really gonna see the change you know?