I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about issues related to gender, identity and culture. As the first-born daughter of a Mexican mother and a Bulgarian father, I spent much of my childhood in a state of cultural confusion as I tried to navigate both of the cultures that I had inherited, and assimilate to the one that I was born into as an American. I grew up listening to opera with my dad, eating taquitos with my mom, and learning to speak English as my third language. In addition to this, I soon saw the differences between myself and my brothers in all of the cultures that we were navigating. These differences deeply affected me as a young girl.

Music was my safe space: a place where identity didn’t matter. People often refer to music as the universal language, but I have come to a different conclusion. I believe that emotion is our universal, and the arts offer us a safe place to investigate what it means to be human.

When I discovered singing I was immediately hooked. Singing is the marriage of my two greatest passions: language and music. I knew immediately that I wanted to spend my life studying this art form. And in the years that have followed I have been fortunate enough to do just that.

And though as a professional opera singer I love my craft, I yearned for more ways in which I could use my voice both literally and figuratively to advocate for the things that I believe in. I found myself returning to the original reason I wanted to be an artist: the belief that the transformative power of the arts makes the world a better place, as it helps us to celebrate what we have in common as human beings.

So in 2016, with the support of so many colleagues and friends, I founded The Canales Project with the mission of exploring issues of identity and culture. One of our initial projects, Hear Her Song, was born from a desire to celebrate women and empower our voices. The mission of this project is to thank remarkable female leaders by creating songs for them, which are written by female songwriters in collaboration with a female poet as well as a female visual artist, and are performed by female singers and instrumentalists. In doing this, we not only thank these incredible leaders; we create new opportunities for women to use their art to make a difference, to be heard, and to inspire. To date we have created 21 songs, and have commitments to double that number in the next year, performing in venues around the world. Honorees include Sonia Sotomayor, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, an African chief, a nun, activists, and many others.

They say that there are two important days in your life: the day you are born and the day you comprehend why. In creating this project, I feel I have come to the conclusion that all of my experiences, including the inequalities that I have faced, have led me to this point. Now when I sing, I feel I am not just singing music that I care about, but I am singing for the things that I believe in, and building a community to support others and help drive future changes.

Whether you are a singer or not, you too have a voice, and a choice. My hope is that we will now finally starting to come together collectively as artists, leaders, and human beings to eliminate the damaging abuse that occurs in our society so that we can get on to the even greater work at hand—using the power of the arts to help us all imagine a better world, and to start striving for it. Right now, it’s time for women’s voices to be heard. It is time for the world to Hear Our Song.

Read more blogs on why Nonprofit Arts Women Rock!