The Upcoming ‘Anything For Selena’ Podcast Is For Latinas In Search Of Belonging
Twenty-five years after Selena was murdered, the Queen of Tejano Music remains a profound cultural icon. Her discography is belted out in parties and bedrooms, the 1997 biographical musical drama about her life still brings people to tears and her memory remains foundational to the building of some Latinx identities even today.
In the upcoming podcast Anything for Selena, Maria Garcia embarks on a journey to understand the late artist’s cultural impact and how she symbolizes our bicultural community’s desire to belong.
Launching in January 2021, Anything for Selena is a nine-episode narrative podcast produced by Futuro Studios and Boston’s NPR station WBUR, where Garcia works as the senior editor of arts and culture.
Unlike media projects centering on the singer in the past, the podcast isn’t biographical. Instead, the program weaves journalism, cultural analysis, history, politics and artful storytelling to explore the cultural duality Selena exemplified and how, more than two decades after her death, she remains a vessel for understanding Latinx identity. The project will also consider how Selena as an embodiment of Latinidad has excluded many Latinxs.
“What I’m most interested in is how this apolitical, working-class, beautiful girl from South Texas changed Latinidad and how we talk about race and belonging in this country as well as how the symbolism she sparked is as relevant and utilized today as ever before,” Garcia tells FIERCE.
The journalist aims to accomplish this by exploring Selena’s contributions to music, body politics and identity through several interviews, including some with Selena’s relatives. She also shares her own experiences as a queer first-generation immigrant from the Texas-Mexico border.
Growing up, Selena was foundational to Garcia’s identity formation.
Born in Mexico, Garcia moved to El Paso, Texas, when she was three years old. She spent her weekdays north of the border and her weekends in Ciudad Juárez. In school, she was Mary. At home, she was Maria. Even as a child, she noticed the duality of her being and felt a need to compartmentalize herself. Then she discovered Selena, a Mexican-American talent and beauty commanding attention in a male-dominated musical genre and presenting the complexities of her identity and culture with pride and flamboyance. Her brown curvaceous figure intoxicatingly swayed on stages to traditional Mexican rhythms; her roaring laugh shadowed her imperfect Spanish during interviews. She wasn’t apologizing for what some might have considered linguistic faults. Instead, she embraced the fullness of her pocha identity and demanded her place in Latinx and U.S. entertainment as she was.
“Selena was truly the first example I saw in mass media of someone who embodied these qualities of myself who I thought, in my young easily influenced brain, were flawed. She was the first example I saw who celebrated these parts of myself I was still trying to make sense of. That was profound for me, and it stayed with me,” Garcia says.
Even after leaving Texas, where the Tejana star’s face graces several public spaces, she continued to be influenced by the singer. While in graduate school in New York, Garcia wrote scholarly essays about Selena. Upon graduating, she returned to the U.S.-Mexico border as a journalist, and the cultural icon took on new meaning and inspiration. Upon moving to Boston and joining the team at WBUR three years ago, she pitched an idea to finally investigate questions about Selena’s cultural, political and social legacy through longform radio storytelling.
Anything for Selena is the manifestation of this lifelong quest.
While Garcia recognizes that some of the themes of the podcast, including family, body image and acceptance, could appeal to many listeners, she emphasizes that Anything for Selena is written and told from a personal lens that will most resonate with fellow Latinxs and children of immigrants.
“I’m writing this for people like me, people who would naturally gravitate to something like this, human stories, survival stories, by a first-generation fronterista who is not trying to translate myself or be legible to a general white audience,” she says.
In fact, each episode will be accompanied by Spanish-language commentary that reacts to the show, a component that Garcia admits was as important to the project as it was intimidating for her. Like the subject of her podcast, Garcia also doesn’t speak fluent Spanish. While recording these segments have sometimes made her uneasy, remembering Selena’s pocha-accented Spanglish allowed her to overcome her trepidations and, she says, helps legitimize the experiences and language of first-generation Latinxs, a core objective of the podcast overall.
“Deep inside all of ourselves, we have an inherent need and desire to belong, no matter how much we think we do or don’t. Selena’s story, her legacy and a lot of the movements that she has spawned, elucidate, or help us make sense of, our own quest to belong,” Garcia says.
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