In A World Where Everything Is Catered To White People, Selena Quintanilla Has Long Been The Splash Of Color My Latina Soul Needed
Long before shops the likes of Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 began to bank on her image to sell $54 shirts to non-Latinx hipsters, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was an icon and legend for young Latinas living across the globe. Ask a Latina and no doubt she has some sort of connection the Tejano singer whether its coordinating sons to “Baila Esta Cumbia” with her primas or playing her VHS biopic on repeat until the tape ran thin. The queen of Latinx music will always be an influential personality in Latino culture in the United States. Her music and the tragic circumstances of her death made her a pop culture phenomenon that escaped the niche Hispanic market. After her death, Hollywood studios furiously vied for the rights to adapt her incredible rags-to-riches story to the big screen. Selena is a fundamental Latino icon even 23 years after her death in 1995, at the tender age of 23.
Next time someone asks you at a party why you tear up listening to the late great Selena, be sure to serve them with these facts:
1. She brought Tejano music to mainstream America and proved women are capable of anything.
Before Selena Mexican-American music was considered an eccentricity and was definitely not played in non-Hispanic clubs and radio stations. Speaking about the experience of being a Latinx signer, Selena once said “Tejano music was hard for us because I was a girl. My dad had a lot of problems while trying to set up shows for us or presentations because there are a lot of men who don’t think that women can get the attention of the public. But . . . wrong!” No doubt the Texas-born singer changed these harsh attitude during her life and after her untimely death.
2. She valued family
Selena might have gained worldwide notoriety in her own right, but long before she was just Selena she had a career as part of the Quintanilla family group Selena y Los Dinos, where her two older siblings also made pompas shake. Like the rest of us, familia was always important to Selena and she never forgot her origins and the role that her family had in her success. Speaking about the struggles she was grateful for enduring with her family, Selena said “We went through a hard time, and we had to turn to music as a means to putting food on the table. And we’ve been doing it ever since. No regrets either.”
3. She was proud of her heritage
Singing in Spanish when you’re not fluent can be a pretty challenging act in itself if you want to break into the mainstream, and Selena was unapologetic about her efforts to do so. “I feel very proud to be Mexican,” Selena once said in an interview about her culture. “I didn’t have the opportunity to learn Spanish when I was a girl, but . . . it’s never too late to get in touch with your roots.” Many singers and actors of Latino origin change their names for a more English-sounding or a more neutral one. But not our Selena. She didn’t look for a fancy name and good on her: Selena is such a powerful, defining name that shines on any billboard.
4. She knew that not all women are straight-sized and many have curves
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, but it has long been dictated by mass media which has, in so many cases, severely distorted our perceptions of women’s bodies. Selena was proud of her curves. Eso mija, eres una fregona. “I’m very real, very sincere, and honest, and that’s how I’ll always be,” the star once said in an interview.
5. She had a unique style
Amidst the customary images and selling points of whitewashed media and the current political turmoils of today, it can be hard for a Latina to feel confident in her identity. Selena did so with aplomb. Her wardrobe choices were interesting and daring in equal measure, which is probably one of the reasons behind her success as a pop culture brand. She was criticized by more conservative audiences for “revealing too much”. We say al carajo con sus juicios. Still, the Tejano singer stayed strong her opinions about her self, saying once, “Always believe that the impossible is always possible.”
6. Because she showed that Latinas can be captains of their fate as well as the fiercest activists.
“What I don’t like are arrogant people. We’re all equal. I don’t like it when a person assumes to be better,” Quintanilla once stated in an interview. Her posthumous campaign with cosmetics giant MAC demonstrated that Latino women in particular and women of color, in general, could and should carry campaigns. She was beautiful and the world needed to see that.
7. She was active in her community “All I need to do is try and do the best that I can do”
As a minority, solidarity is key for the Latino community in the United States, particularly today. Selena embodied community values and never forgot her fellow Mexican-Americans. Certainly an example we should all follow. She grew up in Texas, where migratory patterns and backwards thinking about race make various segments of the Hispanic population feel vulnerable. Power to the people!
8. She urged children to stay en la escuela (don’t drop out, escuincles!)
“Music is not a very stable business. You know it comes and it goes, and so does money. But your education stays with you for the rest of your life.” Selena knew how important education is for minorities in the United States, and that hard work and academic development are the only way for the community to strive. She constantly visited schools and urged young chamacos not to drop out. Respect.
9. Because she was an independent self-made woman “If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away”
She was young but life taught her that all you have is yourself. We can’t believe she was just 23 when she died. Truly wise beyond her years.