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Afro-Latino singer makes waves, courts racist backlash

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@carne_a_sarah IG

Mexico

Before clicking the Instagram video, the sight intrigued most. Sarah Palafox, a Black woman, held an iPhone while standing in front of mariachis.

When users turned on the volume, they heard a woman belting out a heartbreak interpretation of Jenni Rivera's "Que Me Vas A Dar" in perfect Spanish of Mexico's Zacatecas. Instagram users said the short clip made them cry. Others demanded more.

But most wondered: who was this woman with a voice like the late Tejano star Selena? And what's her story?

Palafox, an African American woman raised by a Mexican immigrant family, has generated excitement online with her versions of regional Mexican music.

Born in Southern California but raised in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, 23-year-old Palafox, who goes by the stage name Sarah La Morena, has sparked emotions following a series of viral videos on social media.

The clip of Palafox signing with mariachis spawned a half of million views on Instagram and another 200,000 on Twitter. Other videos of her singing banda - another form of regional music from Mexico's southwest coast - also have been shared thousands of times.

However, as Palafox has been stroking a frenzy with her voice, she's also been the target of a racist backlash online over her love of Mexican music. A few Black social media users accuse of her being ashamed of her Blackness. Some Latino users sling racist slurs and accuse her of appropriation. The insults come in English and Spanish.

"Just the fact of how I was brought up, and what I was born into, and what I got raised in, I mean, I have like the best of both worlds," said Palafox, who sports a Selena tattoo.

On social media, Palafox has shared her story of being born addicted to drugs and thrust into a foster care system after authorities took her away from her biological mother, an African American woman. A devout Christian family from Mexico offered to foster her but soon fell in love with a baby facing all kinds of health issues. They officially adopted her and moved to Zacatecas, where Palafox learned to milk cows and care for horses.

When the family returned to the U.S., kids in school didn't know what to make of Palafox, a black girl who spoke no English and saw herself as Mexican. Palafox, who began singing in church, drowned herself in music, specifically, the music of her parent's homeland. "That kind of music just brings back a lot of memories," said Palafox, of Moreno Valley, California.

Today, as a mother of two and a recently signed artist to California-based Silent Giant Entertainment, Palafox is focusing on the positive responses to her music as the U.S. faces a racial reckoning over police shootings and systemic racism.

But rarely has a Black artist embrace and authentically capture Mexican regional music like Palafox.

Palafox said she had more music projects but declined to give details. She would only say the music will be different and she's not listening to critics who tell her she's shouldn't be singing regional Mexican music.

"I was told you can't wear braids, you can't wear your Afro and go on stage and sing Mexican music," Palafox said. "And to me, I'm like, why not?"

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