by Raul A. Reyes
or Abraham Quintanilla of Corpus Christi, Texas, Monday marks an emotional anniversary. It has been nineteen years since the death of his daughter, singer Selena Quintanilla Perez, known to the world simply as “Selena.” She died March 31, 1995, after being shot by the president of her fan club. Selena was 23.
Now 75 years old and the grandfather of 8, Quintanilla said it is bittersweet to meet fans of Selena, many of whom were too young to really remember the pop star who has sold over 60 million albums worldwide.
“It makes me feel good that after so many years people still remember my daughter,” he reflected. “But at the same time I would rather that she be here.”
Image: Selena Paul Howell / Houston Chronicle via AP file
Selena works on one of her songs in a Corpus Christi studio in March 1995.
Selena’s death struck a collective nerve, and the emotions have reverberated for years. When former President George W. Bush was Governor of Texas he named April 12th “Selena Day” in honor of her birthday, and there are still celebrations every year. There was a postage stamp issued in her name, and there is a Selena Museum in Corpus Christi, Texas,
Here are 6 reasons for Selena’s enduring legacy:
1. Millions of Latinos related to her bicultural life. Selena was an international singing sensation who sold out stadiums, but lived in a modest home next door to her parents. She dressed provocatively and was called “The Mexican Madonna,” yet she married her first and only boyfriend. And like so many Latinos, she navigated two cultures and managed to be comfortable in both. In fact, despite her renown as “The Queen of Tejano Music,” Selena was not a native Spanish speaker. Her Latin music career was already taking off when she decided to study Spanish, so that she could feel more confident expressing herself.
Selena’s death was a revelation to corporate America about the power of the Latino consumer market. In the aftermath of her passing, “Selena-mania” became a real phenomenon.
2. Her shocking death touched off an unprecedented outpouring of grief. Texas historian Joe Nick Patoski, author of Selena: Como la flor, recalled the day when Selena passed away. “I’m old enough to remember Dallas and JFK,” he said, “and it seemed like the same thing all over again. For Mexican-Americans in Texas, the reaction was intense and deeply personal. To this day, an entire generation remembers where they were when they heard the news.” In cities like San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Patoski said, impromptu shrines, memorials and vigils for Selena sprang up. He describes the public reaction to her passing as “amazing, heartfelt, and profound.” The Associated Press reported that after her death, there was a rise in newborns in Texas being named Selena; pop singer Selena Gomez, born in 1992, was also named for Selena.
Image: Selena Jeff Haynes / AFP-Getty Images file
Estella Leak wipes away tears during a memorial tribute for the slain Grammy-winning pop star Selena on April 2, 1995 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
3. Selena’s death was a revelation to corporate America about the power of the Latino consumer market. In the aftermath of her passing, “Selena-mania” became a real phenomenon. A special edition of People Magazine devoted to Selena sold out immediately (its success led to the creation of People en Español). According to Deborah Paredez, author of “Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory,” Selena changed the way marketers looked at Latinos. “Her death served as a cue to the larger culture that Latinos were becoming more visible, more important,” she said. “Selena spurred the growth of the Hispanic market. Our culture became a hot commodity.”
4. Selena had broad appeal among Latinos and non-Latinos. Her fusion of musical genres won her a wide and enduring fan base. “A range of Latinos really connected with her,” Paredez said. “She drew from pop, Tejano, calypso, Afro-Caribbean, and cumbia music, so she signaled across a lot of cultural identities.” What’s more, Selena posthumously achieved her dream of mainstream success. Her album, Dreaming of You (1995), became the fastest-selling album by a female artist in pop history. The Hollywood film about her life (1997), gave Jennifer Lopez the breakout role that made her a star. In addition, there have been books, a record-breaking tribute concert, two stage musicals, a national search for “Selena’s Double,” and innumerable TV profiles. Selena’s husband, 44-year-old Chris Perez, said that even he was surprised by the success of his 2012 book, To Selena, With Love. “Our signings have been super-packed, and the fans have been great,” said Perez.
5. Selena’s loved ones have kept her memory alive. Her father is running Q-Productions, a management company and recording studio. Brother “A.B.” Quintanilla is a music producer. Selena’s husband Chris Perez, who won a 1999 Grammy Award for his album Resurrection, is working on songwriting and an upcoming solo project, and staying in touch with fans through his Facebook page.
“There haven’t been enough people like her in the Latino community,” said author Paredez,” so people continue to turn to her, to commemorate her.”
6. Selena the performer became Selena the “icon.” Like other celebrities who passed away too soon, from Marilyn Monroe to John Lennon, Selena has become larger than life, almost legendary. Historian Patoski notes, “In our memory, she will always be young, she will always be full of promise.” Meanwhile, public fascination with Selena continues because Hispanics, even the younger generations, still claim her as their own. “There haven’t been enough people like her in the Latino community,” said author Paredez,” so people continue to turn to her, to commemorate her.”
Selena’s husband Chris Perez said it is easy to understand why he – as well as so many fans – miss her. “I haven’t met anybody like her,” he said. “She was definitely one of a kind.”
First published March 31st 2014, 5:08 am
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.