Hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra receives Vilcek Prize
Hip-hop and spoken word artist Ruby Ibarra received the Vilcek Prize for performances that center on her experience as a Filipina American woman, and for powerful lyrics that address colonialism, immigration, colorism, and misogyny.
Ibarra is one of three recipients of 2023 Vilcek Foundation Prize for Creative Promise in Music. The Vilcek Foundation raises awareness of immigrant contributions in the United States and fosters appreciation for the arts and sciences.
The foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded over $7 million in prizes to foreign-born individuals and has supported organizations with over $5.8 million in grants.
Born in Tacloban City in the Philippines, some of Ibarra’s earliest memories include seeing her family members sing, play guitar, and perform at local festivals. Ibarra and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 5, arriving at San Francisco International Airport in 1991. She describes that moment as a turning point in her young life, and a basis for her identity as an activist, artist, and musician.
As an adolescent, she was transfixed by hip-hop, drawn by the percussive nature of the artists’ vocals and the poetry of their lyrics.
“This is a genre and a platform for the people who feel voiceless in society. Being an immigrant, I gravitated towards that,” says Ibarra. “Here was this soundtrack where these artists were able to encapsulate things similar to what I was experiencing in terms of trying to find a place for themselves in society.”
Ibarra released her mixtape, “Lost in Translation,” in 2012, garnering airplay across major networks, including Eminem’s Sirius XM Radio channel. In 2017, she released Her 2017 album CIRCA91 hit single, “Us,” struck a chord with Filipino and Pacific Islander audiences with its compelling hook, “Island women rise, walang makakatigil”—Tagalog for “nothing can stop.”
In 2018 Ibarra cofounded the Pinays Rising Scholarship program with Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales. Inspired by Ibarra’s song “Us,” the program provides scholarships of $500 to empower Filipina and Filipinx youth pursuing higher education. Since its establishment, Pinays Rising has awarded more than 30 scholarships each year to young students and activists.