Vanessa Lora G ’23 on embracing her Hispanic heritage, identity and creative artistry

When musician, videographer, recorder, and producer Vannessa Lora is asked who she is, she answers simply: “I’m just an artist.” From her roots in the Bronx to her graduate music studies at Syracuse University, Lora has always used her energy to weave stories of love and resiliency and is now inspiring others to do the same through her self-owned record label.

When Lora first arrived at Syracuse University in 2014 for her B.F.A in Film, Cinema and Video Studies; she learned for the first time what it meant to feel like an outsider. Lora, who grew up in The Bronx in New York City, was used to an environment overflowing with celebrated diversity. Her family moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic, and in the Bronx Lora celebrated her cultural roots along with millions of other New Yorkers from different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. “In such a vibrant place you’re immersed in so many different cultures and one human being is like a melting pot of so many different things,” Lora said of her formative childhood in the Bronx.

However, when she moved to Syracuse, Lora suddenly felt different. She felt as if she did not belong. So much of her identity- her Hispanic heritage, her personal legacy as a first-generation college student- she felt made her somehow inadequate in a predominantly white university.

As Lora adjusted to life at Syracuse, she began reflecting more on the home she had felt utterly accepted in. Lora’s understanding of home stems from her family. Raised by a single mother, Lora understood what it meant to be resilient as she watched her mother, aunts, and grandparents work tirelessly and overcome terrible difficultys to be able to give her privileges such as going to college. They taught her to embrace and take care of herself, always highlighting the importance of building a life that aligned with your core self. “You cannot do anything until you have a grasp. of yourself. In order to be able to pour from a cup, you have to make sure your cup is full,” said Lora of the values her family raised her with.

This grasp of herself was fully realized when Lora left her family and home to study film in an entirely different community. But rather than let such feelings undermine her identity, Lora leaned more fully into understanding herself and her home. Her feelings of strangeness led her to embrace every aspect of what it meant to be her: Hispanic, queer, Dominican, New Yorker, first-generation college student. Through her art she began to articulate a definition of identity and home. “I want to represent where I come from and where I am,” reflected Lora.

After her undergraduate degree in film and a few years spent creating, Lora decided she wanted to pursue her artwork in a different medium: music. Currently she’s back at Syracuse studying at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for a masters in Audio Arts and is using her music to celebrate her home and identity through pulling from jazz and hip hop: two music genres at the soul of life in the Bronx. But for Lora, the most important part of her music is the stories it tells. Lora’s music weaves stories of resiliency and love; stories that honor the difficult paths her family walked and celebrate the vibrant communities that nourish her.

Lora’s music does not just stop at telling her own story. Motivated by the desire to inspire others to share their stories of love and resiliency as well, she created her own independent music label. She is currently producing her own music and hopes to grow her label in the future to produce the songs and music of other storytelling artists.

Lora’s growth as an artist is a love letter to the meaning of home. Her own story of her and her family’s love and resiliency through toughness is a story crucial to what it means to be human, and through her new record label Lora celebrates the stories of humans and artists growing towards love.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow.