By Alvin Blanco, Genius
It’s all about talent, education, and the willingness to take risks. Music is meant to inspire, and a new wave of fresh, exciting, ridiculously talented Latino artists understands this fact.
Maria Isabel, Destiny Rogers, and Jay Wheeler are up-and-coming singer-songwriters with the talent and desire to achieve greatness. This next class of stars succeeded by tapping into education to make their dreams come true—and they’ve inspired their fans and followers in the process.
The three artists embody the spirit of the McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship, established in 1985. The goal of the scholarship is to help Latino students break barriers and make their parents and those around them proud. Over the years, McDonald’s has helped more than 17,000 Latino students—and given out more than $32 million—through the HACER program. The initiative is especially important in tough times like we’re facing now. Given the state of the world, it’s crucial for young people to keep moving forward and do more.
Isabel, Rogers, and Wheeler are certainly moving in the right direction. But they come from different places and represent the breadth of the Latino diaspora. Isabel grew up in Queens, New York, as the daughter of parents from the Dominican Republic, while Wheeler was born and raised in Salinas, Puerto Rico. Rogers, who is half Mexican on her mother’s side, held down the West Coast, growing up in Lodi, California. They all knew early on that creating music was in their future.
Dreams of rocking stages don’t always line up with the plans of parents who want more practical, and safer, careers for their children. Isabel, who dropped her debut EP, Stuck In The Sky, in October 2020, seamlessly blends her Dominican ancestry’s bachata and merengue with R&B and hip-hop and her lush vocals. She is particularly thankful that her parents had no issue supporting her aspirations.
“My parents took four-year-old me seriously when I said I was going to become a singer,” says Isabel, who attended NYU. “They never argued with that dream or told me I had to be anything different. Obviously, I had to go to school, get good grades, and all that stuff, but it was never a matter of like, pick something. I think with any first-generation kid watching your parents make sacrifices or work extra hours or whatever it may be to make it possible for you to do what you want to do, I think that was the biggest motivating force to be successful.”
While Isabel’s parents had faith in her talents, Wheeler’s classmates in school were less kind. The reggaeton crooner has spoken candidly about the bullying he faced, but he was still able to persevere and become a certified star. By posting his music on the Internet, Wheeler jump started his career. Fans dubbed him “La Voz Favorita,” and he earned praise and hands-on guidance from reggaeton legend DJ Nelson, who executive produced his two critically acclaimed albums: 2019’s Platónico and 2020’s Platónicos.
Those school bullies couldn’t knock Wheeler off his path. “I always loved music [but] I knew that it was going to be hard,” he says. “Living for something that you love is harder. I learned English in school and watching TV and movies. I knew at some point in my life I wanted to do something in the English world because [I have] a lot of respect for American music. A lot of kids [take education] for granted—I don’t know need to learn this, I don’t need to learn that—but when you get older, you realize that all the things that they gave you, you do need to educate yourself in everything, because life puts you in a different position everyday.”
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