Marissa Alemán is a talented singer, vocal coach, and mamá from Puerto Rico who was forced to leave the island after Hurricane María devastated her home in September 2017. After the storm, she and her mamá, who suffers from Alzheimer's, got out on a humanitarian aid plane to California, where she was forced to rebuild her life.
In Puerto Rico, Marissa taught the neighborhood kids how to sing, worked with big artists, recorded the boleros clásicos in her own voice, and showed her range on stage. While performing, Marissa was able to let her personality and her passion for music shine, but while she still identifies as a singer, her career path has changed dramatically.
Ever since moving to LA, her life has revolved around taking care of others, especially her mom. "It's all a matter of what you want to do with your disabled loved ones," Marissa said. "They can be taken care of in a hospital, but my idea was that they spend more time at home, surrounded by family, and that's what I've achieved."
Marissa does everything for her mamá, Chabela — but it goes beyond standard care. She's been able to use her beautiful voice for good, administering specific therapies including musical therapy to her mamá.
"Musical therapy is what's kept my mom's mind active," Marissa said. "Yes, a lot of times her mind wanders off somewhere far away, but when I sing to her, she comes back. I give her the first phrase, and she continues the song. Her memory speeds up quickly, and she continues singing with me."
Marissa's daughter Laura noticed su mamá hadn't had a day for herself ever since she had to leave Puerto Rico. She turned to Ulta Beauty and nominated Marissa for a well-deserved day of beauty and holiday surprises. When a camera crew showed up to her house, Marissa thought she was just going to tell her story to spread a positive message of love and family, then her daughter handed her a hand-written note telling her it was her time to get pampered. "I was in shock with this surprise," Marissa said. "I do what I do because it's part of our culture, of how I was raised. I never thought I was going to be celebrated for that."
For the first part of her special day, Marissa went to an Ulta Beauty store, where a team of beauty professionals pampered her and made her feel like the star she's always been. From getting her brows done to a facial to makeup application — complete with pestañas — to getting a long-overdue haircut, Marissa was finally able to relax and feel as special as she is.
"It felt like I was in a cosmetic heaven," said Marissa. "I kept saying, 'Wow, my God!'" She said it felt like a fairy tale.
But Marissa's biggest surprise came when she saw her reflection in the mirror after her day of beauty. "I felt like myself again," she said. "When I saw myself all dolled up and I saw my makeup and my hair that I hadn't cut in two years because I simply didn't have the time, I said to myself, 'Wow, welcome back!' I'm here again, I'm back. It was very gratifying. The day was full of happiness."
And just when this selfless mamá thought her day was over and she was about to get back to her routine, she found out there was something else in store for her: her home was decked out with everything she needed to enjoy unas felices fiestas, complete with a warm and delicious dinner of her favorite traditional Puerto Rican dishes and all her seres queridos, including her mom and her granddaughter.
"I couldn't believe it!" Marissa said. "My house was so beautiful, it looked like Christmas. And seeing my mom sitting there, surrounded by her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, evoked such a beautiful feeling. My mamá was happy, laughing like a child. She sat with us and had dinner with us, and she had an awesome time."
After such an emotional day, Marissa was so grateful to be nominated by her daughter for a beautiful day of holiday surprises, and to all the crew who made it happen. She felt inspired and reconnected to her performer past — so much so she wished she could organize a performance so that everyone could see it.
"I'd love for everyone to see that side of me, that person on stage, happy, doing what she does best," she said. "Singing is part of my life, of my day-to-day — that's my nature. I wish people could see how much happiness music brings me, because that's what holds me together, that's my therapy."