‘Yo Soy Inmigrante:’ Berklee Student Sings of the Immigrant Experience
By Bryan Parys
Earlier this month, music business/management major Luis Gamarra brought 50 musicians and dancers—from Berklee and The Boston Conservatory—together in Berklee’s cutting-edge Shames Family Scoring Stage to record his original song, cowrote with fellow student Nicolas Farias, “Yo Soy Inmigrante” (“I Am an Immigrant”), sponsored by the Berklee Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE). The song is a heartfelt tribute to the immigrant experience in America, and the lyrics are derived from true stories that Gamarra has been collecting for years from those who have come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families, despite the countless struggles that come along with the experience.
Telling—and Living—the Story
Gamarra first came to America from his native Bolivia when he was 18, as the recipient of a U.S. residency lottery slot. His legal status allowed him access to opportunities he previously could only dream about, such as pursuing a Berklee degree and launching a nonprofit while still a student. And yet, ever since he arrived in the U.S., Gamarra, now 23, has worked as a restaurant server, and not a shift goes by without him being in touch with other people that have come to this country, most of whom have not been fortunate enough to gain a lottery slot. “I’m able to witness and experience and meet people that come to this country that leave their families behind to work 80 hours a week here,” Gamarra said. It was these interactions that pushed Gamarra to create “Yo Soy Inmigrante.”
To help make Gamarra’s dream a reality, BerkleeICE sponsored and served as an advisor on the project, having been drawn to its focus on entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social change. Social entrepreneurship is central to the work the institute looks to support and incubate on campus, and this song was a great example of that idea. Nicole d’Avis, operations and events manager for BerkleeICE, explained that, “This project takes the immigration message and puts it back into the hands of immigrants, rather than the media and politicians framing the immigrant story for immigrants. This is an example of immigrants telling their own story.”
Despite the large group that Gamarra culled for the recording session, he made time to speak with each participant individually to share his vision on a person-to-person level. “So many of the students related,” Gamarra said, and with participants from countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, Iran, and Ecuador, the project’s vision only became more globally meaningful.
A Global Vision for a Global Audience
Now that the song is tracked, Gamarra is busy planning to shoot a music video that will feature the Berklee and The Boston Conservatory participants as well as images of immigrants. Global news outlets Univision Boston and El Mundo have been covering the making of the song thus far and plan to continue chronicling the experience up until the release of the song and video.
The vision doesn’t end there for Gamarra. He wants the song (and its message) to go viral, and hopes to get the attention of the Latin Grammys, as he thinks performing the song at the Latin Grammy awards show in November would be the perfect way to spread positive awareness of the immigrant experience. “Berklee was an opportunity that changed my life,” he said. “Without residency, it’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have happened. As an immigrant myself, I have this chance to—through music—work for social change.”
[To watch the video for “Yo Soy Inmigrante,” which was released on July 1, 2016: use the link below]
The visa lottery could have not been more successful and rewarding, kudos for Luis Gamarra.