Soraya is a U.S. citizen who was born in New Jersey in 1969, one year after her
father, mother, and brother moved to the United States from Colombia. Her family
was forced to move back to Colombia, but when Soraya was eight years old, they
returned to New Jersey.
"Soraya" is a very common name in the Middle East. Soraya's maternal side of the family is Lebanese. Her mother's family were Christians who emigrated from Lebanon to Colombia.
Soraya's mother, Yamila Cuevas Gharib, was a housewife in Colombia, but when the family moved to the United States, her parents had to work extremely hard. Her father worked three or four jobs, and it was hard for the family to make ends meet. In Colombia he worked for an exporting company.
Soraya was never allowed to speak English in her house while growing up. It was the one thing that her mother insisted upon. Her father brought the family to the United States because he wanted to increase the opportunities for himself and his children. Her father studied English long before he arrived in the United States, but her mother preferred to speak Spanish although she did learn English, as well. While her mother wanted Soraya and her brother to become fluent in English in school, she also wanted them to retain their ability to communicate well in Spanish.
When Soraya's mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Soraya was only twelve years old. Then Soraya's mother had a recurrence when Soraya was eighteen years old, and then her mother died in 1992 when Soraya was twenty-two years old. Soraya said that her sense of responsibility increased because she needed to take care of her mother and do all of the chores around the house. It forced her to grow up faster than other children her age. Soraya would go to the doctor's office with her mother, and did research with her about breast cancer, and participated in the Race for the Cure with her.
Soraya first became interested in music at the age of five when she heard her uncle playing music in Colombia. Her uncle played Colombian traditional folk music on an instrument called the tiple, which is a kind of guitar with triple strings. Her parents purchased a guitar for her at her request, and she taught herself to play it. She became proficient in classical violin and her first 'public' performance was as a violinist at Carnegie Hall in New York City. As a high school student, Soraya began writing her own music in English and Spanish.
Soraya attended Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she studied English literature, French philosophy and women's studies. She performed musically in coffee houses around Rutgers University while a student there.
Soraya obtained a record contract with Polygram Latino/Island Records in 1996. Her first album, called On Nights Like This, received positive critical acclaim and enabled her to tour and open for famous musicians such as Natalie Merchant, Zucchero, Sting, Michael Bolton and Alanis Morissette.
Four of her songs climbed to the top of the charts just about everywhere in the Latin American and United States Hispanic markets, and her single Suddenly/De Repente dominated the Billboard Latin Pop listings. Her second album, Wall of Smiles, co-written with her idol Carole King and released in late 1996, helped her attain worldwide recognition.
Unfortunately, her breast cancer was diagnosed shortly after the release of her third album - just before she was about to tour to promote it. Soraya has since created two more successful albums.
Soraya is a successful survivor of breast cancer who was diagnosed in 2000 at the young age of 31 after finding a lump while conducting a routine self-examination. She was diagnosed at Stage III and had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Before being diagnosed, she had always eaten right, exercised regularly (trying to run at least 3 miles a day), meditated, and received regular health check-ups.
Soraya had previously lost her mother, grandmother, and maternal aunt to breast cancer. She is now a breast cancer advocate for support and education - especially of Hispanic women. Soraya became the Latin spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, touring all the Americas to raise awareness. During September and October, she takes a break from her music career to focus on breast cancer awareness.
In order to encourage other women, Soraya wrote and recorded '"No One Else/Por Ser Quien Soy" — a song that reflects her experience in fighting breast cancer.
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