Growing Up Latina With Pharrell Protégé Bia

Like lots of millennial and bicultural Latinos, Bia grew up between languages and borders, often negotiating relationships with varied places she called home. But no matter where her parental units ventured—New York, Boston, or Miami—one common thread kept them all together.

“My parents have that island, cultural mentality where everything is centered around family. You cook, you clean, and you’re never afraid of hard work. That was what my household was all about,” she says about her Puerto Rican father and Italian mother. “You went to school, stayed out of the streets, and did the good you had to do.”

However virtuous Bia’s parents were, the Sisterhood of Hip Hop alum was never quite encouraged to pursue any larger-than-life dreams. After all, aspirations of becoming any of kind of artist are rarely ever nurtured by two old world folk who might know the value of hard work, but fail to see a life beyond manual labor. “I feel like that’s what you sometimes get with old fashioned or traditional parents, because they don’t often believe that [it’s] possible,” she adds.

Bia is nevertheless grateful for the strong households that raised her. Ones where Spanish, Italian and English were spoken, and where anything from Selena to Ivy Queen to Aaliyah to Tego Calderon would be playing as soundtrack for weekend cleaning sessions or family BBQs.

After putting out #CholaSeason, which she explains is “that common comparison of ‘Oh, you’re Latina from the hood and you wear your baby hairs down, hoop earrings, and bandanas,” Bia is hard at work carving out a legacy of her own with her genre-bending trapetón (a fusion of trap and reggaetón).

“It’s an array of hard beats, melodic sounds, English and Spanish—a little bit of everything,” she tells us. “I’m taking the trap and the reggaetón and rocking out [because] I want people to see what I did and know that I did it from nothing, and that it was all genuine.”

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Unforgettable childhood memory: When I was around 11, my dad used to do cookouts in the summertime—you know all Latin people do cookouts in the summertime. We’d have lobsters and everything. Anyway, my whole family would be outside listening to music and just hanging out, and we would find a lobster and walk them. We’d put them on leashes. [Laughs] I know, I know. Like some weird Puerto Rican shit, like ‘Hey this my lobster.” And we had chihuahuas and shit, we had like three chihuahuas, so we had leashes everywhere. [Laughs] So yea, me and my cousins we would walk lobsters for fun. Right here in New York, on 112th street and 2nd ave.

Favorite home cooked dish: I’m so into food. [Laughs] You know it’s about to get real. I don’t have just one. But I can’t live without rice and beans. I cannot leave without rice. I would like to have rice maybe four times a week. I don’t, but I would like to. I also like macaroni and cheese a lot. I eat that a lot. I eat a lot of food. You might not think I do, but I do. [Laughs]

Craziest Hispanic proverb as told by mami or abuela: My dad wanted me to be real multicultural, so he would try to mix Spanish and Italian together. Ven mangiare! Like what? Like, did you just say “come here and eat” but in Spanish and Italian? [Laughs] But really the one thing my dad instilled in me was—he used to always tell me “You’re Boricua, you’re Boricua!” Which for a long time I thought was a gender or something. [Laughs]

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Che Guevara moment (greatest moment of rebellion): I was working a regular job, and I was miserable. This was right around the time I met Pharrell, who really put into my mind that if I have dreams and goals I have to chase them. So my greatest moment of rebellion was when I just quit my job, packed my stuff in a U-haul truck, and drove from Boston to Miami with a friend. And I was like, “I’m going to make it.” Right? I’m going to go do music. I hustled and got a job. I was just taking advantage of being around greatness and soaking up the energy and the music, and learning to really turn it into a career. That was the one time where everyone was like, “You can’t just quit your job, you can’t just move to another state without having another job.”

I first saw myself as Latina when… I first saw myself at Latina when I was like eight-years old, probably. I was a real little girl and my dad, like I mentioned earlier, to tell me “You’re Boricua!” And to me, it didn’t make sense. I thought it had something to do with gender so my response would be “No! I’m a girl!” [Laughs] But then I went to the Puerto Rican festival and it clicked. And I was like, “Yea I’m Latina, I’m Boricua.”

Chupacabra or El Cuco? Chupacabra! [Laughs] Yo, we used to be like, “Nooooo!” when my dad brought it up.

Favorite poor man’s meal: Rice. Rice and everything. Rice and milk, rice pudding, rice and eggs, rice and beans, rice and chicken. You can do anything with rice.

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Household cure- all/remedy: Vick’s! [Laughs] It’s true. You know what’s crazy? When I feel my allergies kicking in, I’m like searching around for the Vick’s. You have a headache? Vick’s. You have a cut? Vick’s. Stuffy nose? Vick’s.

Salsa, Bachata or Reggaeton? Oh, that’s a hard one. OK, I love to dance bachata any time, any place, doesn’t matter. But if you really want to get me in my zone, feeling like mad Latina, salsa is where it’s at. And reggaeton is for when you’re having fun with your friend.

Telenovela guilty pleasure: All of it! I feel guilty watching any reality television. I feel terrible watching Love & Hip-Hop. I like Power too. You need Power. Power is the truth.

Historical hero/heroine? Let me think of a real good woman I want to use… Rihanna! [Laughs] Because she’s the truth. She’s a shero. Everything that we want to do as like cool women, she does it first. Yea, she’s a hero.

What is your life mantra? Namaste. Nah, kidding. “Work hard and stay humble.” That’s my life mantra.

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