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Will I Be a Good Mom? Starring Sarah “La Morena” Palafox
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Episode 2
Will I Be a Good Mom? Starring Sarah “La Morena” Palafox
Black Mexican banda music star Sarah “La Morena” Palafox spent her whole life deflecting racism. Then suddenly found herself giving birth to a beautiful Black boy in the middle of a civil rights uprising. That's when she started to fight back.

[SEG A: ERICK PERSONAL INTRO]

ERICK: Let me know, whenever you’re ready.

[Clears throat]

If you look at her birth certificate, the woman’s name is Rosa Elvia Nuñez Bastida Salcido. But that’s not how she got her name.

Rosa Elvia, grew up destitute on a tiny rancho in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. She was one of nine children born to a tall, viking-looking man named Jose and a tiny, half-Nahua woman named Lorreto.

The mestizo is wild.

Most of Rosa Elvia’s siblings were born with brown skin and features like their indigenous mother. But Rosa Elvia was born with white skin, earning herself a bunch of nicknames.

Her family and friends all called her Jila, after one Christmas when a light skinned girl played a character named La Jila in a religious pageant that toured through the tiny village.

Since her family was so poor, Rosa Elvia did odd jobs around the village like carrying buckets of water for miles from the wells to houses. The people of the town came to know her as la guera.

Right before her first year of high school, Rosa Elvia left for Culiacan, the state capital, to work full time.

She stayed with relatives and worked as a street food vendor, in restaurants, other odd jobs to send money back to her ranchito. When she was 17, she was selling tortas near the university when she met a city boy named Manuel. She fell in love, had a little baby, and still everyone around Rosa Elvia called her Guera or Jila.

To give her son a better life, Rosa Elvia made the decision to cross the border and find work in Los Angeles.

THEME MUX IN: I Got Everything by Mz.007

She sent the baby to America ahead of time with her boyfriend’s relatives.

Then Rosa Elvia scaled fences, narrowly avoided getting beat by robbers, and walked all night through the San Ysidro Mountains to just outside San Diego. There a packed van took her to Southeast Los Angeles, where her baby was waiting with her future sister-in-law, a woman named Lydia.

In SELA, she greeted her baby boy, sat down and took her battered shoes off. Rosa Elvia’s feet were covered in thorns from the walk.

What’s your name, Lydia asked? She looked at her thorny feet and said, “Rosa Elvia but everyone calls me-” Lydia stopped her. “Rosa’s too common. But Elvia is a pretty name. It’s rare. Like you.”

And that’s how my mom got her name.

I’m Erick Galindo and this is Wild.

THEME MUX SWELL: I Got Everything by Mz.007

SHAKA: This is WILD — A show about what it was like to grow up during the pandemic. Season 1: Home Forever.

TRANSITION MUSIC: Babylon (Instrumental) by Fenton Joseph

[SEG B: INTERVIEW]

ERICK: I’m going to play you a twitter video that means a lot to me. It’s a cell phone video but it picks up a lot of detail.

SARAH’S VIRAL VIDEO SOLO

ERICK: We’re in a backyard decorated by light bulbs on a string, there’s a table in the middle, a white folded chair in the back, a bottle of chamoy in the front, and a guitar you can hear but can’t quite see. And there’s these mariachis just standing there with their instruments hanging at their sides as they stare at this young woman named Sarah in jeans and a pink top who is singing the hell out of a song about heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness.

SARAH’S VIRAL VIDEO SOLO

Listen to that voice.

SARAH’S VIRAL VIDEO SOLO

It’s incredible. It’s like every word is filled with devastation and release. I’ve heard that song before. It’s called Que Me Vas A Dar and it was made famous by the late, great Jenny Rivera. It’s not just Sarah’s voice that gets to me either. But I mean, damn. Respect to the Mariposa del Barrio, but, for me, this forever will be Sarah’s song now. Because, ultimately, there’s a story behind the video that makes me feel weightless in the best way possible, everytime I hear Sarah sing it.

SARAH SONG IN

Here she is singing it with the full band behind her.

The thing about Sarah’s song is that it came at a time when I really needed to feel lighter. Because I was tired of carrying all this shit by myself.

PAUSE

The pandemic wall was bearing down on me and the Civil Rights reckoning that was happening after a cop murdered George Floyd seemed like a losing battle. Black and Brown people were getting killed by police at alarming rates. And frankly I was tired of being asked to write about race in America.

And saz, there was Sarah, singing her heart out on video and telling her story in a twitter thread.

SARAH: I would get a lot of negative comments and racist remarks and messages and it's just funny to me because those people in one way or another, they made my video go viral so...

ERICK: That’s Sarah Palafox, aka Sarah La Morena, a Black Mexican singer, who’s video and thread about racism in the banda world hit 4.5 million views. And that’s not even the whole story behind it.

When I sent the video to one of the producers on the show — Shaka Mali — his reaction was like…

SHAKA: Ugh, I was fascinated, because it's, it's not a rare story. I think a lot of Black women go through what she's been through in some capacity at some point in their life. But it is still a triumphant story. And she's easy to root for. And I feel connected immediately to that.

The thing about Sarah is she’s not only a woman — in a dominantly male industry — but she’s a mother, who had a baby during the pandemic, who struggled her whole life to be seen in the way she saw herself.

And who finally came to terms with a lot of that while stuck in bed at a hospital during the civil uprising.

I appreciate Shaka’s reaction to Sarah. The instant connection he felt. So I’m gonna let him take it from here.

Babylon (Instrumental) by Fenton Joseph

SHAKA: What makes us who we are? Is it what people see initially or is it how we feel about ourselves? During the pandemic I spent alotta time soul searching, it was virtually impossible not to. Things like race, mental health — which side of the proverbial line you fall on — were all overarching themes of last year. But what if you’ve been asking yourself those questions for a lifetime? Do you already have an elevator pitch armed and ready for people?

SARAH: Growing up, I mean, I got asked every single day, like every day at the store, at anywhere I was at like, Oh my God, like, how do you speak Spanish? I would just make stuff up like, Oh, I'm from the Dominican Republic, because then people would stop asking questions.

SARAH: I would say, you know, like, well, I'm Mexican and I wouldn't want to go into detail about it. I feel like now I'm just more proud to tell my story and to tell people where I come from and who I am.

SARAH: I was born to a Black family and they just were not in a place to take care of me. And so they gave me up for adoption. And I got adopted by a Mexican family and they raised me in the Mexican culture and that's, that's how I speak Spanish and, you know, sing Spanish and all that.

PAUSE

SHAKA: Sarah was born in the United States — but when her parents adopted her, they took her five siblings to Mexico — and raised them there — surrounded by sounds of family and farm life.

SARAH: Me and my dad would get up really early, we would milk the cows. Like well my grandparents it's, you know, their ranch out there so they have a ton of animals. And I just remember hearing the freakin’ roosters super early in the morning. And, yeah I mean, a lot of my cousins out there, we were all like about the same age and just, I remember like the parties and all that.

SHAKA: Growing up in a big family — and feeling that love and that acceptance all the time — Sarah dreamt of starting her own family.

SHAKA: When Sarah was about five years old, Her family moved to LA— and almost right away people started judging her.

SARAH: I grew up in, in an apartment. And I remember the kids, we would all hang out together and every time we played cops and robbers, I was always the robber of the entire, the entire group of kids that we played with.

SARAH: It was always me, or it was the other Black boy that used to play with us. I didn't think like, wow, these little shits are being racist… what the hell you know

SARAH: It all starts at home. Like it's so sad that's the image they had of Black people because that’s what they were being taught at home.

PAUSE

SARAH: Growing up I was bullied a lot. I mean like severely bullied. In middle school, I got jumped by a group of Black kids because they felt like I was anti-Black and trying to you know be Mexican and trying to be someone I wasn't.

SARAH: And my mom had to completely transfer me schools. And then I went to this new school, I didn't want to speak Spanish at all.

[Clip of Sarah singing here]

SARAH: Like didn't want to go through the same thing, and just my issues within myself, like just not knowing who I was.

SARAH: And I feel like music was the only way I could, I could sing and express exactly what I was feeling.

[Clip of Sarah singing here]

SHAKA: Just like Aretha Franklin

[Clip of Aretha Franklin singing gospel]

SHAKA: Little Richard

[Clip of Little Richard singing gospel]

SHAKA: Ms. Tina Turner

[Clip of Tina Turner singing]

SHAKA: Sarah’s love for music, started when she was young — in a space where she was fully welcomed to be who she was...

SARAH: I remember always like humming, singing. Like my brothers would tell me to shut up and, and I just remember the first times me singing on stage was at church. That's where I started…Yeah, there's one in particular. What’s it called… Mis Ojos, and it's Marcela, Marcela Gandara I think and I think Jesús Adrián Romero.

SARAH: It goes... Aunque mis ojos, no te pueden ver, te puedo sentir, se que estas aqui.

SHAKA: There's something special about singing in church… For Me, the ladies in the lord's house always made me feel like family. They were my community, a place where I belonged. The windows were murky, the pews were uncomfortable, but the music was always a vibe! Not everybody could sing, but everybody played their part. Grandmama had to drag me to church, but once they started singing — I was happy to be there.

But for Sarah, it’s almost like she was gifted with a super power that helped her cope with all the questions about her identity, the bullies and the isolation..

She threw herself into music.

SARAH MUSIC MONTAGE

SHAKA: Sarah was able to hone her talent, develop a loyal fan base in Southern California’s Inland Empire, and even make it all the way to the quarter finals of Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento, which is America’s Got Talent...in Spanish.

[Clip of Mucho Talento]

SHAKA: After decades of self doubt about her identity Sarah now had a firm one: recording artist.

But it also put her in the spotlight and with all the fans, came the bullies too.

And soon, the challenge of a lifetime: mother.

[Clip of Mucho Talento]

__________ MID ROLL BREAK _____________

Babylon (Instrumental) by Fenton Joseph

SHAKA: When I heard Sarah’s talent for the first time, I thought about how transcendent she was. In my mind I find myself pretending I was her agent, placing her on TV shows, novelas, watching her win Grammys and give inspirational speeches in both English and Spanish. She immediately made me a fan of hers. I didn’t know her but her voice — made me root for her…

But a rising music career wasn’t enough to quiet a lifetime of wondering if she was Black enough or Mexican enough.

SHAKA: In February 2018— the not knowing was too much.

SARAH: There was just a lot of other things that, you know, I went through. It was years of, it was years you know of going through that and… and then I tried to commit suicide and I overdosed and my parents found me in time and called the ambulance. I was in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks.

PAUSE

SARAH: I was angry at my birth mom and angry that I was different in that I was bullied and all that. But I never wanted to let my parents know because I never wanted them to feel bad. Like I never wanted them to feel like it was their fault or just, I was just sad. And, but I didn't want to put that on anybody else.

SHAKA: That weight wasn’t the only weight she was carrying — every time she thought about her future, thoughts of her past came with it.

SARAH: A long time ago someone said that a lot of foster kids had the same traits as their biological parents, even if they didn't grow up around them, because it was just in them.

SARAH: And so I remember, I don't know if it was a doctor or a social worker that told me, but they just said like, your mom was a drug addict and a prostitute. And this and that and like you don't know, if you got that.

SHAKA: Sarah may have had questions about her identity— but being a mother — that was real for her… It wasn’t something she second guessed until someone second guessed it for her.

SHAKA: After Sarah left the hospital — her conditions read: epilepsy, bulimia, struggles with depression. A history that made somebody say...

SARAH: I wouldn't be able to get pregnant and have any kids.

PAUSE

SARAH: I've always wanted to be a mother, but I'm not going to be and that sucks. So that's what was in my head, it was like, I accepted it and I kinda took it as it came.

Come Over (Instrumental) by Lamalo

SARAH: Like I'm not going to have kids and that's okay. And I'll figure things out.PAUSESARAH: And boomPAUSE

MUX SWELLSARAH: I found out I was pregnant. And from that moment I found out I was pregnant, I mean, my life changed. I have to get up. Like I got to drive careful. Like I have to be safe.

SHAKA: The same year Sarah tried taking her life, she gave birth to a beautiful Black boy. For the first time in a while — Sarah took care of herself because it wasn't just her anymore. She woke up early, she was eating healthier, she stopped smoking. But, every now and then fear seeped in.

SARAH: A lot of thoughts I’d never thought before came to my head. Like, what if I'm a bad mom? Like. what if I can't like take care of this baby? Like, I don't know what I'm doing.

SARAH: It was hard and I suggest, you know, any woman going through that, please get help. Like, you're not crazy. No, one's going to think you're crazy. Like we all could use a little bit of help, you know,

SARAH: And then I got pregnant again. And my second pregnancy was really different.

SHAKA: Sarah's second child was due in the summer of 2020. Beyond the complications of being pregnant in the pandemic, she also ran into issues with her epilepsy medicine.

SARAH: The meds I was taking while pregnant, they didn't work a hundred percent. And so the more pregnant and the bigger I got, the less, the medicine started working.

SARAH: So my doctor sent me to the hospital to get checked and I'm waiting at the hospital and I started seizing and I started choking on my vomit because I had a mask on.

SARAH: And so they had to call the code team. I mean, it was just crazy. I was seizing, I wasn't breathing. So they had to do an emergency C-section.

SHAKA: On May 30th 2020, Sarah’s second child was born premature under those conditions. She was overwhelmed, stuck in the hospital, meanwhile outside the hospital…

[News clips]

SHAKA: the world was dealing with the fallout of George Floyd’s murder.

SARAH: And my son was in the NICU and there were all these things going on and I just remember like feeling overwhelmed

SARAH: And then we had a nurse come in the room saying that, you know the hospital's on lockdown.

CHANTING STARTS

SARAH: We couldn’t leave because the protests got really, really bad, Right in front of the hospital.

CHANTING ENDS

SARAH: And so it wasn't until then that I was on my phone and I was looking at everything and I was just shocked and I was already so hormonal and emotional and I was crying and I was so upset and so sad.

MUX IN: I Got Everything by Mz007

SARAH: I have a two year old. And then I gave birth to my son. I just remember being in the hospital. And my two year old was you know with my parents during the entire time I was at the hospital and I just wanted to hug him.

SARAH: My newborn, I just wanted to hold him. Like it broke my heart. At first there wasn’t much I could do. But then I was like no, there’s other things I can do, there’s petitions, there’s articles that I can put up, there’s groups that I can put up that are accepting donations. So that’s what I did. I tried to do as much as I could from the hospital.

SHAKA: Sarah decided right then and there to become more socially active. Like many of us, Sarah spent most of the summer, after her recovery, attending marches, raising awareness and calling out racist trolls that made awful comments on her music videos.

MUX OUT: I Got Everything by Mz007

And then in September she had enough. She posted a video on Twitter that went viral, taking her career to the next level, a star Mexican banda singer who is also a proud Black woman.

VIRAL VIDEO CLIP IN

SARAH: I've had like quite a following on Instagram for a while. I had posted some of those before, but I think that when my video went viral, it was just to an extreme. For me, it was just a way to like share with people what I go through and how ignorant people still are.

SARAH: The point of that was just for people to really try and step in my shoes and understand what it's like when I'm just trying to do what I love and what I feel in my heart.

VIRAL VIDEO CLIP OUT

SHAKA: That’s who she is now. Sarah La Morena...as AN inherent strength of someone who has accepted who she is. Above all else, she is a mama who loves her sons so deeply that she wants to change the world for them.

SARAH: God, I have so many goals and so many visions, but my main thing is I just want to be there for my kids.

[Clips of Sarah with Kids][Clip of Sarah singing with her baby]

SARAH: I want them to be proud for me to be their mom. Obviously I want to be able to financially set them up.

[Clip of Sarah singing with her baby]

SARAH: I want to win a Grammy. There’s a lot of people who say you know don’t say what you want to do because mal de ojo but no, I am manifesting this shit. Like I’m going to win a Grammy. That is a big goal of mine.

[Clip of Sarah singing with her baby]

ERICK: A few months after we spoke to Sarah — she was diagnosed with cancer — and she announced it publicly. So as you listen to Sarah’s voice and you dive into her music — send her and her family some love.

[Clip of Sarah singing with her baby]

[SEGMENT 4: Outro]

ERICK: This is going to sound Wild but I feel like I’m Sarah sometimes and I feel like she’s a lot like my mom and I’m a lot like both of them. I just spent the better part of a lifetime not feeling like I belong anywhere.

It’s like damn, I wish I could just tell people I’m from L.A., one of the most culturally diverse regions in the entire world. And it would be enough to answer the same damn question I've been asked my whole life: What are you?

“I’m a freckle-faced, redheaded, Mexican American from Southeast Los Angeles whose parents hail from one of the most violent, drug-controlled regions of Mexico.”

I started using variations of that line to introduce myself when I began my professional storytelling career. It was a defense mechanism created after a lifetime of dealing with identity issues.

My 23andMe DNA map looks like Napoleon Bonapart's plans to conquer the world. I got genetics from everywhere. It’s a gift really. But it wasn’t always.

I spent my childhood getting beat up and made fun of by gangsters for being too white and by bullies for being too Mexican.

One particularly soul crushing day, my dad, a brown brilliant man, pulled me aside and explained that looking like a chubby leprechaun might be making my childhood hell, but eventually it would give me the chance to “blend in and go places” he never could because of the way he looked and spoke.

MUX IN: I Got Everything (Theme Song) by Mz.007

But here’s the thing, I don’t want to blend in. I want everyone to know exactly where I come from.

And I want that to be the reason I go places.

Because I feel like Sarah, my mom, and I have this secret super power. Since people had all these expectations of us because of the way we looked, we could be anything.

ERICK: And damn it. That’s it. That’s, that’s the show. Wherever it is you’re listening to this podcast, I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay. Review us, rate us on iTunes, share it with your friends, tip your taqueros.

MUX OUT: I Got Everything (Instrumental) by Mz.007

[SEGMENT 5: HIGHLIGHTS]

Cynthia Galindo: Highlight. My highlight of the day was hanging out with my son and being able to, to share some of my past with him and experience some good music and just laugh.

Yolanda Galindo: My favorite part of the day today was going shopping with my daughter. My redhead. She's so special. My only girl. And just spending time with her. Bonding, talking. Just fills my heart.

Elvia Galindo (Spanish): That my grandkids came to visit because I love them a lot and I enjoy being with them. That’s why I felt great today.

Chris Garcia teaser: I can barely take care of a dog dude, how am I going to do a baby. laughs But then I was like “Oh I can have a dog and a baby and a career.” You can make things happen. It’s going to take will and hard work, but we’re capable of more than we think.

ERICK: That’s Chris Garcia — a TV writer and standup comic who uses humor to cope with truly heartbreaking and life affirming moments. That’s on the next episode of WILD.

[CREDITS]

Read this week by Victoria Alejandro

This episode of Wild was written and produced by Erick Galindo, Shaka Mali, Megan Tan and me, Victoria Alejandro.

It was sound designed by Lushik Wahba and mixed and engineered by Eduardo Perez.

Megan Tan is our Senior Producer. Our Producers are Victoria Alejandro and Lushik Wahba. Marina Peña is our associate producer and fact checker. Shaka Mali is an associate producer at large and our announcer. Erick Galindo is our host and editor. Jessica Pilot is our Talent Producer. Our Executive Producers are Antonia Cereijido and Leo G.

Thanks to the team at soylamorena.com for the assist on this episode. And to our special guest appearances by Cynthia Galindo, Elvia Galindo and Yolanda Galindo. Shoutout to Marisa Klug-Moratya for shooting our album art and Steve Rosa for the assist.

The theme song is I Got Everything by Mz.007

Our website, LAistStudios.com, is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios.

The marketing team of LAist Studios created our branding.

Special thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including: Taylor Coffman, Kristen Hayford, Dae Kim Kristen Muller, and Leo G.

WILD AF is a production of LAist Studios.

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

END of MUX: I Got Everything (Instrumental) by Mz.007

[GOODBYE]

WOO! I nailed it. I think...

This is Erick G — I’ll catch you next time

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.