Singer, actor, model, and entrepreneur, Eugenia Forteza is a beautiful and charming young Argentinian-French woman living in New York City. Although she is a super busy and an extremely accomplished artist, Eugenia Forteza took time out of her day to share with me her story of immigration to the United States from Argentina, and spoke about the powerful multicultural aspect of opera in her life. Described as a “total diva on stage,” by Mario Arevalo, I was delighted and humbled that Eugenia shared her warm personality and enthusiasm for music with me.
Eugenia Forteza was born in Paris, France and spent her childhood growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It’s not an obvious combination, right?” Eugenia joked, saying that whenever she tells people that she is French-Argentinian, “there is always this look of… ‘how?’”
Eugenia elaborated on her unique combination of nationalities, explaining how “my parents are both Argentinian, but they both had ties to France. On my Mom’s side, her Grandma was French, my Grandma was a French teacher in Argentina, and my Mom went to a French school that I went to in Buenos Aires. My Dad lived in France when he was little and worked in France during his career, so they both had ties.” However, her parents did not always plan on having both of their children born in Paris. “They were only planning on staying in Paris for a couple years, but they ended up staying for 10 years. My sister was born there, and I was born there, and then they moved back to Argentina when I was 4 and when my sister was 7.” When she moved to Argentina, “I didn’t speak any Spanish yet.” However, Eugenia’s mother intentionally didn’t teach her children Spanish in Paris “because my Mom knew that we would move back to Argentina at some point, so she wanted us to really absorb the culture in France and the language” while they were still young.
When Eugenia’s family moved back to Argentina, she began learning Spanish and attended a French school based in Buenos Aires. She described her education as “very bilingual and bicultural,” and reflected upon her education with gratitude because of the international aspect of her education. Eugenia elaborated, saying “There are a lot of diplomat kids,” that attend these schools. For example, “one of my best friends was the son of the Lebanese ambassador in Buenos Aires.” Her education made her “very international and liberal, and I loved that. You meet all sorts of people from different cultures who are traveling a lot, and I think that really opens your head when you are so young and growing up. It’s a big part of who I am and how I do everything today.”
Eugenia credited her love of opera to her education. “I think a big, big draw for me was the international aspect of it all. Without even noticing, that is what I am attracted to because of my upbringing, and opera has that. Ideally you are traveling around the world, meeting people, working in a cast (I was working in a cast with 10 nationalities at one point), and that to me is amazing. I live for that.”
On top of learning French and Spanish, Eugenia’s mother additionally insisted that her children be taught her how to speak English. Eugenia said that “my parents, especially my mom, didn’t trust the French to teach me English, so I was also going to an English institute twice a week after school, starting when I was about 7.”
Eugenia was raised in a very academically based family and remarked that music was something she discovered for herself. Usually whenever I have met accomplished musicians like Eugenia, their family has a deeply rooted history of music. To my surprise, Eugenia was not raised in a musical family, and to me this makes her accomplishments more astounding because she has individually earned all of her success and individually fostered her many talents.
When Eugenia expressed her interest in learning music, her parents were extremely supportive. Since guitar was the most popular instrument in Argentina, “I wanted to take private guitar lessons. I started when I was pretty young at about 10, but it wasn’t super serious.” It was not until her guitar teacher asked her to sing while playing guitar that Eugenia realized her love for the vocal arts. “I started singing with my guitar teacher, who was also a voice teacher, and all of the sudden, I started liking singing.” Eugenia said that even from an early age, “there was a very classical quality to my voice.”
Although opera music was not the most popular genre of music in Argentina, Eugenia credited her fascination with opera to the “kid-classical singer” Charlotte Church. Eugenia said that although she had not been exposed to opera or classical singing, “here was this British girl who was singing classically.” She elaborated on her thought-process, saying, “you know how it is when you’re younger. Once you see someone like you doing something, you kind of get permission to do it.”
After studying music in Argentina for several more years, Eugenia made the decision at 19 to move to the United States. “I was always fascinated with the states and the college experience from what I would see in the movies, and my Dad talking about his experience at MIT. So even before I knew I wanted to do music as my profession, I had always had this dream of moving to the States for college since I was very young.”
“When I finished high school, I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to perform, but because I had this baggage of being such a good student, I thought that I couldn’t just decide to perform, and that I had to study something ‘legit.’” As the daughter of two professors and a dedicated vocalist myself, I understood Eugenia’s conflictions at the time of her high school graduation. In order to truly succeed in music, you have to completely dedicate yourself to the art, and this is a difficult choice to make when you have grown up in an extremely academically based household.
Hence, Eugenia started a degree in literature, but this experience only furthered her understanding that her true passion in life was performance. She continued her musical education at the National Music Conservatory in Argentina, but soon decided that she needed to continue her education in the United States if she wanted to follow her dream to the fullest extent.
Explaining to me her thought-process, Eugenia said that “the thing about growing up in Argentina is that it’s an amazing country with amazing people, but it’s still Latin America. You don’t have as many options as you do in the States, and I was a particular case where the things that I wanted to do, I kind of needed to have more options available, and I wasn’t finding the combination that I wanted there in Argentina.”
Although her parents were at first hesitant to have her live in an entirely different country, once they were on board, they were super enthusiastic. Eugenia remarked lovingly that “I consider myself very lucky because my parents have always been super supportive.” After many auditions, accompanied by her father, Eugenia ended up going to Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Once arriving in the United States, Eugenia said that she did not really feel any culture shock. “I feel like my American assimilation began when I was very little, because I was always so drawn to the country, the music, and watching all of their shows. I had no culture shock. I was living my dream. I never had a culture shock because this was something that I wanted so much for so long that I didn’t have to mentally prepare. I just wanted this. For me, what has been interesting is that noticing cultural differences came much later with the more I spent time here, the more I grew up as a person, and the more relationships I had.”
Although she has lived in the United States for 10 years, Eugenia is not officially an American citizen. She laughed when I asked her about her status, saying that “that is a saga.” When she came to the United States, it was with a student visa for undergraduate school. Then after graduation, she received another student visa for graduate school. Along with a student visa, Eugenia explained that “once you finish a degree, every degree you finish you get a one year OPT (optional practical training).” However, your job must be related to your degree, and “that’s where it’s tricky for music majors, because once you get out of school you don’t find this amazing job right away.” Before speaking with Eugenia, I had not thought about the unique difficulties that foreign-music majors face after graduation.
Although Eugenia managed to earn a job at the Juilliard store, she knew that a year for her OPT would go fast, and soon she would need to find another way to stay in the United States. At first, “my plan initially was to get the artist visa, but then you start realizing, this visa is really hard to get because it is basically designed (because the people at immigration don’t understand how an artist’s career works, and how also you can be a successful musician without being a superstar) for people who are winning Oscars. It can be done, but you have to get creative and really find ways to prove that you are worthy, which is very stressful in its own way as well.”
Eugenia started to think about leaving the United States for Europe, because “there is a huge opera scene” in Europe, and because “I am a French citizen.” However, Eugenia did not have to make this big shift in life because “eventually I got that artist visa, and to this day, I consider it one of the biggest achievements of my life. You also feel validated because of all of the things that you have to prove” to get this visa, and because it proves that “you are a worthy and accomplished musician.” Eugenia laughed while explaining that whenever she received this Visa and reflected, this was when she finally realized that “Oh yeah, I actually am accomplished.”
Now two years into her Artist Visa, Eugenia shared with me how “I recently got married, so now I am dealing with a whole different process, which is the green card process.” Just listening to all of the different visa processes that Eugenia had to go through confused me and made me reflect more upon how stressful this process must be for everyone who has to routinely file for Visas. Additionally, Eugenia explained to me how “a lot of people can’t afford these fees that I’m having to pay right now,” fees that are only to apply for Visas and citizenship, and that don’t guarantee any success. Eugenia told me that the pricing is always shifting, saying “they announced this week that the fees for the artist visa are going up by 50%.” I agreed with Eugenia when she said that in the United States, “immigration is a business.”
After telling me her story, Eugenia and I took time to reflect upon the current political turmoil in the United States. “There are so many things I didn’t see because it didn’t even cross my mind, and with time, living here, and especially now that so many things have been exposed, I am aware of a lot of institutional problems in this country.” This “doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had. This is the land of opportunity. If you work hard here, you can do whatever you want, and it’s not like that everywhere.” However, “that being said, there are a lot of things that are very wrong regarding how certain institutions have been built, and I think a lot of that is exploding right now.”
To speak on immigration, she said that “a wall is not a solution and blaming illegal immigration for everything is not a solution. It has been and is a problem everywhere in the world. It’s very complex, but blaming immigrants for a lot of the problems, it just doesn’t even make sense when you’re a land created on immigration.”
“My message for Mr. President or anyone who agrees with him as far as immigration goes is ‘never underestimate an immigrant because someone who left their comfort in search of more opportunities or a better life,’” is a force to be reckoned with. “First of all, if they chose your country, it is because they have a high opinion of it. Second of all, they are probably people with really good qualities, because if they managed to do all that to get to your country, they are probably very intelligent, hard-working people that you would want to join your workforce.”
She continued, saying, “I also want people to understand that just because someone decided to leave their home country, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love, respect, and are still connected to their roots. In my situation, I am very very tied to my roots, and especially with music. What I love to sing most is Spanish repertoire, Latin American music, and French opera, because this is where I feel at home. Being able to share that with the world is magical.” And through music, “I take home with me everywhere.”
Eugenia has already performed in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, and plans to continue traveling around the world, sharing her musical talents and smiles with many people to come. As a young female vocalist myself, learning about Eugenia’s story was particularly important for me not only because it furthered my understanding of how music functions as a universal language, but also because Eugenia serves as a strong-willed, independent, and compassionate role model for me. With all her beauty, elegance, and talent, I know that Eugenia will continue to inspire those she performs for and speaks with for many years to come.
To watch Eugenia perform, please feel free to watch her performance of “Bonita Rama de Sauce,” an Argentinean Art Song by Carlos Guastavino.
Additionally, Eugenia provided me with a short film called “Beautiful Neighbor, Opposite,” that was created by Eugenia, her husband, and her two friends in Paris, France.
A special thanks to Eugenia for taking the time to speak with me and for providing me with such an amazing and inspiring story. Please visit her website, www.eugeniaforteza.com , for more information about her upcoming projects!