Sarah Aroeste

Category: Songwriter Stories

Sarah Aroeste"Gracia," the title track off my newest album, is a song I wrote to pay homage to my hero, Dona Gracia Naci. Dona Gracia was a 15th-century, Harriet-Tubman-like figure of Renaissance Europe. As the Spanish Inquisition was spreading in Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th-century, Dona Gracia, a widowed single mother, amassed enough wealth to bribe kings (and even popes!) to secure safe passage for hundreds fleeing the Inquisition. She was a rebel, a true maverick of her time. She used her smarts, her femininity and her wealth to do what she thought was right-- all as a single woman in the 1600's!

I learned of Dona Gracia's story as a small girl, as we share a similar background of Spanish Sephardic heritage. I have always admired her spirit and no-nonsense drive to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, very few people have ever heard of this remarkable woman, as she has been all but ignored in history books. I thought it was time to give her her due. As the first verse I wrote says:

You give us grace
You give us life
You give us promise
You give us bravery
You give us strength
You give us defiance

Because of you we have the
Honor, fight, effect;
Because of you we stand with
Power, height, respect

The language I wrote the song in is in Dona Gracia's original language, Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish). It was the language that the Sephardic community spoke after their dispersion from Spain. Most people have never heard of this language, but surprisingly it has survived the last 500 years. It is rare for people to write songs in Ladino anymore, and I am proud to stand as one of the few Ladino artists today who does.

The song concludes with an English sound byte of the iconic feminist, Gloria Steinem, from a speech she gave in 1971 to the Women's Political Caucus in Washington, DC. As she says in her words, the debates are not really about money, or sex, or gender. It's about something much bigger. Dona Gracia deserves the fame and accolades today not because she was a woman. It's because she was just an amazing person. Period.

I hope my song "Gracia" helps introduce people to Dona Gracia Naci, as well as to the rich, vibrant culture of Ladino-- as both deserve to be heard.

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