Dominican-American singer and reality star Amara La Negra talks to People CHICA about overcoming homelessness and the lessons learned from this challenging time in her life.
Amara La Negra dazzled on Univision’s dance contest Mira Quien Baila All Stars and seems to be just like the title of her new EP, Unstoppable. Whoever sees the striking 28-year-old Dominican-American singer, all glammed up and posing for the cameras on a red carpet — or smiling for selfies with fans while promoting her children’s book, Amarita’s Way — would never guess what she has been through. But the star of BET’s movie Fall Girls and blossoming entrepreneur, who has her own skin-care line and shoe collection in the works, hasn’t always had wealth or a glamorous life, even after she’d made a name for herself.
It was only four years ago that La Negra spent months sleeping in her car in the parking lots of fast food restaurants and pharmacy stores open 24 hours. She would use their restroom at midnight to bathe herself with wipes when there were no other customers around. “People didn’t know because they would always see me looking pretty, well-dressed, and they always saw me as [the star] Amara La Negra,” she recalls. “They didn’t know that outside of that [famous facade], I was going through really difficult times.”
She was 24 years old then and in a toxic relationship, she admits. “I was in one of the best times of my career, I was famous, in all the music charts, I was breaking through. But I trusted blindly in this person who was my boyfriend at the time. Love blinded me. He would keep all my money, and if I needed anything, he would be the one to buy it — food, clothes — but he never paid me.”
The last straw, she recalls, was when her ex kicked out her mother, Ana Maria Oleaga, from the home the three shared. “When he threw her out of the house, I decided to leave with her,” she says of “Mami Ana,” who raised Amara as a single mom.
Born Diana Danelys De Los Santos, the supernova we now know as Amara La Negra started out as a child star on Univision’s legendary variety show Sábado Gigante and landed gigs as a backup dancer for the iconic singer Celia Cruz. Oleaga worked various jobs to pay for her artistic daughter’s singing and acting classes, not to mention the fancy dresses she wore to television auditions. What people don’t know is that the young entertainer they saw shining on stage and on the small screen, had to help her mom sell flowers and clean houses for a living, as she revealed on an episode of Love & Hip Hop Miami.
Amara and her mother are tight. “All the sacrifices that my mom did for me, all the long hours that she worked, all those extra jobs that she got just to make sure that there was food on the table, that there was a roof over my head…” a teary-eyed Amara reflected on Instagram Live. “She believed in me, she saw potential in me, she’s done so much for me. The type of bonding my mom and I have is crazy.” That’s why she didn’t think twice in following her mom out the door when her ex-boyfriend insisted she leave.
Oleaga found refuge with a Christian family who took her in to their home. “In order not to worry her any more, I pretended everything was fine,” says the singer, who hid the fact that she was sleeping in parking lots from her mom. After four months of living out of her car, Amara asked the same family to take her in as well. She is very grateful for their help. “My mom and I both slept on a full-sized bed for a year,” she says of this time.
The difficult time helped Amara evolve. “I’m more independent, I like to manage my own money, have my own house, my own car,” she says. “It was a mistake to depend on a man. I learned about my finances. I never worried about that because I was so in love. I did learn a lot and grew a lot as a woman.”
They both worked hard and saved money to eventually rent their own space. Then, a colleague of Amara’s stepped in, offering her a job as cohost on a new television show, El Palenque de Enrique Santos. “He said: ‘I will be paying this much,’ and when he mentioned those figures, my eyes opened wide and I said: ‘Of course!’” she says. The casting call opened opportunities: “I got all dressed up with the clothes I had in my car, and that’s what helped me get back up again.”
La Negra also helped her mom regain her financial stability: With Amara’s support, Oleaga started the business Empanadalicious by Mami Ana, selling dessert empanadas filled with Nutella, cheesecake, coconut and other flavors in Sugar Factory restaurants nationwide. The singer hopes to buy Mami Ana a forever home this year. “That’s my biggest dream,” Amara reflected on Instagram. “I want to buy her a divine and fabulous house, I want her not to have to work, for her to feel like a queen, like all her hard work and sacrifices for me were worth it.”
Even though she didn’t take home the $25,000 prize won on Sunday by fellow Dominican Clarissa Molina on the finale of Mira Quien Baila All Stars, Amara left her sweat — and soul — on the dance floor. She rehearsed and performed the challenging choreography week after week on the Univision reality show hoping to win money for the Dominican Women Development Center, a nonprofit based in New York City that provides education, childcare, health services and motivation to Latinas in need. “Women’s rights are very important to me. Unfortunately there is femicide in my country, and I’m so against that,” Amara says. “Everything having to do with girls getting abused, rape, domestic abuse, I can’t stand any of it.”
Besides learning some new dance moves, it was the charity element that motivated her to join Mira Quien Baila All Stars. “God willing, I hope to be able to support some nonprofit organization that helps homeless people because I was once homeless myself,” she tells CHICA. “I learned that not all people living in the street are there because of drug use or because they are bad people. Sometimes life’s situations put you in a bad place. Some people can get back on their feet and others need more help. I would love to help in some way.”
Watching her mom struggle and never give up have fueled her ambition. “My mother makes me feel that anything is possible, that I was born to be great,” she concludes. “I’m very confident, fresca, daring. That’s very important in life, having the courage to try things.”