This Latin Singer Refused to Let Stereotypes Get in the Way of Her Career

This Latin Singer

Refused to Let Stereotypes Get in the Way of Her Career

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It’s a tough world for a dreamer, and there’s perhaps no bigger or more difficult dream than that of cracking the hard shell of the vastly competitive music industry.

Wanting to be a singer – and a famous one at that, is an inherently frustrating dream, but one that thousands – perhaps even millions pursue everyday.

Stefani Vara is one such dreamer.

Stefani Vara

Vara recalls, “I was raised to fight for what I believe in,” and even after having a tough time in college, she would go on to pursue her dreams with an indomitable spirit.

She had never realized she was different until she was at her University of Colorado, and it dawned on her that she was the only Latina in the cheerleading squad. She was told she was “too big” to cheer with the other girls, but nonetheless managed to secure a position on the squad – one she didn’t take lightly. When she got the phone call offering her the position, she said, “do not call me to be your token hispanic person.” She remained steadfast in her goals, to never again be discriminated or looked down upon because of the color of her skin or intonation of her voice.

After graduating, with $1000 and a determination to rival the best in the music industry, she travelled from her native state of Texas to New York with hopes of fame and got herself a room in Queens. She began learning about recording music and the ways in which to do so at the time in the city. Devising a plan was her first order of business: “as we all know, when we have these great plans in mind, it doesn’t always go the exact way we want it to go on paper.” In order to survive in the expensive city, she would pick up odd jobs and temporary gigs. She admits that during the most struggling of times, “you learn how much you want things to happen.”

She produced a demo of three songs and showcased them throughout the city, naively believing this would lead her to a label. “Of course, that didn’t happen,” she laments, and she chose to go another direction with her music. She sang in a girl group for a while before forming her own band and performed with them in venues throughout the city. This was still not enough to get by and Vara would soon be faced with her next financial dilemma.

“I was still trying to survive in a city where $100 might get you through 2 days plus rent.” Her next job offer would make her squeamish, but for monetary reasons, she could not turn it down. An agency wanted her to be a foot model. “All I could think of was foot fetishes and thought that was not where I want to go.” Her then-agent convinced her of its legitimacy, and Vara became a resident model for Steve Madden and a plethora of other shoe designers at the time, and was utterly shocked by how much it brought her. “I still say that I make more money on my feet than I do on my voice,” she says, laughing.

When Vara finally landed a deal with an independent recording label, she believed she had hit the jackpot. Soon after the deal was signed, the label went into business with music giants Universal Records, and her aspirations grew. Caught up in the excitement and glamour of it all, Vara never paused to realize the exact terms of her contract. She says, “it slowly started dawning on me that a lot of artists that arrive in the city sign a first bad deal.”

The terms of contract meant that Vara was locked into a three-record album deal, which in the first instance appeared incredible, but upon closer look and more time spent with her new colleagues, Vara knew their artistic directions were drastically different. Thus began some turbulence in the relationship, which was terminated shortly after.

She remains optimistic about the experience, and explains that while it wasn’t the best introduction into the music sphere, it did open up some doors for her, including a membership into the Grammy’s, which she still has today.

photo by @MarcoFromHouston

At this point in her career, she left New York for Texas, needing a break from the city that appeared to have put a dent in her recording spirit. She wasn’t home long before she returned to the city with a new dream – a dream in which she would start her own production company and begin recording internally. While at home, she realized that an entrepreneurial foray might suit her better than working for others.

She recorded Middle of the Night in New York in 2010 with her new production company, “and it took off,” she says. It reached charts in Turkey and received worldwide acclaim. It wouldn’t be long before she was pursuing further entrepreneurial goals and three years later she would own her ‘entrepreneurial songstress’ title by concocting the idea for a web series with her mother that would focus on their fun Latin-American family and her mother’s cooking capabilities.

Having owned a restaurant for 17 years, Vara’s mother was well-equipped with the skills necessary for a cooking show, and a personality to boot. Webisodes were only just beginning, Vara recalls, and so she began fundraising to start the web series her and her mother were so excited about. They raised $10K through a Kickstarter campaign and produced a rough pilot of Comida Caliente with Tweleve18media entitled “Comida Caliente with Dene and her Daughters” for distribution to the bigger networks, hoping it would catch on.

“We were told there wasn’t enough drama in our family,” Vara laughs, continuing, “all families have some type of drama but that’s just not what we were about. We were a Mexican-American family coming together in the kitchen.” Networks told Vara her family wasn’t traditional or dramatic enough for their own series. As preposterous as it may sound, the lack of screaming and shouting amongst themselves meant they would not receive any airtime.

They decided instead to do a Facebook miniseries about how they bottled a salsa made from the family restaurant called “Comida Caliente Salsa”. And with that came an opportunity for her father – now divorced from her mother – to become an investor in the salsa. “We have a dysfunctional, functioning family,” Vara says. Yet despite their differences, the family would profit from her ambitious and driven outlook. Comida Caliente is now into its second season, with Vara cherishing every minute she gets to spend recording the cooking shows with her mom and two sisters.

Vara is now also running a Follow My Feet campaign, which instructs and helps youth to follow their dreams and put into effect plans on how they can achieve their goals. Having battled with prejudice in college as a Latina and again in New York trying to navigate the music industry, she is now providing a platform for people to come and seek help when they begin to navigate similarly difficult paths in life. You can see her next perform at Women Empower Expo in Washington D.C, on May 27th.

Amy Corcoran

Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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