October 17 was beginning as a typical Tuesday morning, as I deliriously ticked through my routine. As the whirring start-up sound of my computer filled my drowsy head, I regretfully prepared myself for the first (of what seems like fifty) email checks I do everyday, anticipating “surprises” from my bank or replies about my research from my English professor. Instead, heartwarming nostalgia in the form of a Google Doodle greeted me to my homepage as the familiar primary-colored Google logo, now in a lavender cursive-font, complemented an animated sketch of none other than Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. It was created to acknowledge the 28th anniversary of the singers first solo studio album. Rather than check my email, I decidedly dove down the rabbit hole of Selena’s music, watching old music videos and interview clips and reawakening my love for the fallen star.
Known mononymously as Selena, the Mexican-American singer was born in April 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas. This would become tied to her identity as the Queen of Tejano (Texan) Music, a type of Mexican music that incorporates elements of country. She was also recognized nationally as the “Mexican Madonna”, alluding to her sexy performance outfits and energetic dancing and stage presence.
Seven years after her debut release, Selena was fatally shot by her fan club president at just 23 years old.
Before her premature death, Selena became a universal icon in her perseverance to achieve her goals despite negativity surrounding her gender and ethnic identities. She started recording music professionally at age 11 when she began her career in a band called Selena y Los Dinos with her older siblings Suzette on drums and A.B. on bass. This strong family ethos was major for her largely Latinx and Mexican audience for the duration of her career, and today as her siblings assist in publicly carrying out her legacy for fans, by conducting affairs like curating the Selena Museum located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Though a native English speaker who learned Spanish phonetically, she sang in that language for the majority of her career.
Her career then evolved into the greater genre of Tejano music, which at the time was largely dominated by male voices. However, after winning the after Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1987, which she won nine consecutive times after, her work became more popular and began reaching a global audience. Her first solo album Selena, as recognized by Google on it’s 28th anniversary this October, marked the beginning of her five album-spanning career. Her album Selena Live! was released in 1993 and won the Best Mexican/American Album category at the 36th annual Grammy Awards.
Selena also sought success outside from her music career and created an empire that lead her to debuting a chain of boutiques in Texas a fragrance, and the wish to start a cosmetics line. Her fifth album, Dreaming of You, was posthumously released as a hybrid of both Spanish and English songs, and the first of its kind to debut atop the United States Billboard 200.
Following her death, then-Texas mayor George W. Bush declared her birthday, April 16, “Selena Day” in the state. To announce her death, People magazine ran a one-time Spanish issue, and due to it’s popularity, the Spanish version People en Español was created.
In 1997, the biographical drama film Selena released starring Jennifer Lopez. Besides providing a global introduction to now-famous JLo, it is also from this film that we get the iconic car bumper scene and tag line “Anything for Selenas”. This film is where I personally first encountered Selena’s music, as she passed away before I was born. Watching the Selena movie is one of my first vivid memories, watching on the couch with my mom when it hit cable TV. My mom tells me that it was the first film that I obsessed over that wasn’t my tried and true favorite (101 Dalmatians, if you were wondering) and I managed to be engaged entirely through the lively reenactments of her concerts.
The end of the film is slow and fast all at the same time — as a choppy montage of real-life footage depicts her passing. Shifting from voice-over news reports of her death over footage of her being escorted in an ambulance, to slow motion footage of her family crying in the hospital and closing with fans holding a candle vigil, it all went over my head (now that I understand it, this scene chokes me up everytime I watch). After the film was over, I promptly asked my mom if we could go watch Selena perform, to which she replied “Mija, Selena isn’t here anymore, she died”. To ease devastation, she and I wrote a letter to her parent’s P.O. Box in Texas telling them how much I loved her. My obsession then led to my mom taking me to watch a synoptic live-action version of the Selena film, and even her gifting me two collector’s edition Selena Barbies–the only toys that I managed to keep pristine up until a bratty friend of my brother destroyed them (but I promise I’m over it…)
The reigniting of Selena as a pop culture icon began three years ago, when fans started an online petition to have M.A.C. cosmetics launch a Selena makeup line which gained a lot of traction. M.A.C. shortly thereafter announced that they were collaborating with her sister to start a M.A.C. Cosmetics X Selena Quintanilla line that, due to high demand, became a permanent collection (my best friend and mom both gifted me a lipstick from the line last Christmas). In August of 2016, she was immortalized by Madame Tussauds with her own wax figure. Selena also has an official merch line at Hot Topic, the store that is home to official mass produced merch for a variety of musicians and music groups. My mom surprised me with three t-shirts from the Selena line, and told me that she had to brave to enter Hot Topic to purchase them because of the “scary and uninviting” store sign. This past Halloween, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, and America Ferrera all commemorated the star by dressing up as the singer in her icon purple jumpsuit. Additionally, this past November 3rd, Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti declared the date “Selena Day” in the county.
The following day, the unveiling of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame took place right in front of the Capitol Records building on Vine St. Actress Eva Longoria stood in as a presenter of the star alongside her family members and widow, and shared that “growing up, there was not a reflection of me anywhere…it was like someone like me didn’t exist in American mainstream” and that the “star isn’t just for Selena, but for all Latinas”. Similar sentiments can be heard from the popular Selena most people know now, Texas-born Selena Gomez, who asserts that she is her namesake.
Everyone can’t help but wonder where Selena would be today after her remarkable cross-cultural strides in the music industry despite her short career. Today, most retain her irrefutable icon status because of how her emergence positively changed the way the United States accepted Spanish-speaking artists, and her strong will as a young woman in a male dominated scene. Although others who are familiar with her music and grew up listening to her like I did may have a similar encounter with this icon, her narrative is universal. Selena stands as a representation of how humility and authenticity can lead oneself to achieving their dreams.
Written by Celia Davalos