Luis Miguel Ramírez still remembers where he was when he learned that Selena Quintanilla, the biggest star in Tejano’s music scene, had been shot dead at the age of 23.
“I was six years old and sitting on the bus when my brother came running up and said, ‘Selena is dead! She was shot in the back! »», Says the singer of the Latin alternative group Son de Rey, 32 years old. “When I got home my dad was crying – a few months ago he told me that the reason was that he couldn’t bear to feel what the Quintanilla family was going through as he sought to raise her five young children. The following months were spent mourning this nonsense tragedy.
The Ramírez family’s reaction was by no means unique. Selena – like Beyoncé and Madonna – is always referred to only by her first name. At the time of her death at the hands of Yolanda Saldívar, her recently dismissed fan club manager, she was the famous queen of Tejano, a mix of folk and pop music originating from the Texas border and drawing inspiration from Mexico and the America. She recently performed in front of 66,000 people at the Astrodome in Houston in the United States, a stadium record. The year before, she had become the first woman in music Tejano to win a Grammy. She was expected to become a global superstar. Instead, she’s been dead for 25 years.
Saldívar had been accused by the Quintanilla family of running the fan club as a scheme of fraud and embezzlement of it and the popular fashion boutiques of the singer, Selena Etc. She was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. in 2025, 30 years after the singer’s death.
In the years since the murder, Selena’s legacy has only grown.
Next month sees the arrival on Netflix of Selena: the series, focusing on the singer’s debut. Last year, a concert series called Selena for Sanctuary was hosted by music director Doris Muñoz, herself a huge Selena fan.
A singer-inspired 2016 MAC makeup collection known for her bold, bright red lips sold out in minutes, as did a second collection last April. Jennifer Lopez, who played Selena in a 1997 biopic, posted an Instagram tribute on the 25th anniversary of her death, asking fans to share their own feelings about the star.
When the Selena star was posthumously unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017, she drew a record 4,500 fans and vibrant murals continue to grace her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Actor and singer Selena Gomez, who bears her name, has spoken of the emotional connection she feels with her namesake and celebrities from Khloé Kardashian to Demi Lovato have spoken of their love.
Selena’s stage style, largely made up of sparkly jumpsuits, jeweled caps and bras and, of course, that bright red lipstick, is regularly recreated by avid fans. Rapper Cardi B described herself as the ‘Selena Trap’ on the 2018 song Sports car explaining, “He’s an alter ego that everyone would like to be and I want the world to know how much I love him.”
Chicago-based Spanish teacher Wendy Rojas agrees. “I loved her music, but what mattered more to me was that a girl who looked like me could be such a superstar, especially in America,” she says. “I was five when I first heard his music, but even at that young age, I realized that being white and American was more beautiful than brown and Mexican. Selena changed that. She gave me hope. When she died, it was like losing a member of her family.
The feeling that Selena’s death was more than a terrible tragedy rings especially true for anyone who spent time in Texas after her murder.
My first journalism job, at 23, was as a junior sports reporter at the Houston Chronicle. It was the year after his death and the city still felt like it was in mourning. My closest friends were Mexican-American and they spoke of Selena as a beloved sister.
I remember bars covered in photos of her, t-shirts printed with her image that my friends wore, and a memorable night at a Tejano club where candles and pictures of saints lined the room and the only music. played was Selena’s. Bouncy and approachable, it was like the soundtrack of A Thousand Nights Preparing with your closest friends. But its appeal had spread widely in the United States.
“What people forget is that a singer Tejano was still very unusual in the 1990s,” says Esmeralda Cordea, office manager in Brooklyn. “It was still a predominantly male industry and here is this singer who looked like us, spoke like us and had such an impact. She had a strict upbringing, which was so relatable, and made music that spanned generations – my mom and I used to dance together in the kitchen to her songs. When she died, it was like our dreams died with her.
There was also another reason Selena spoke to Mexican-American youth from Texas in particular. Like many of them, she hadn’t learned Spanish as a child, instead speaking a mixture of Spanish and English slang known as Spanglish. She would later embrace her legacy and the internet is full of clips of her tentatively trying phrases. “I didn’t have the opportunity to learn Spanish when I was little, but… it’s never too late to get in touch with your roots,” she told an interviewer at Mexico in 1994.
This struggle when you switch between two languages and cultures, accused of belonging to neither of the two, is one of many Latin American people who identify with each other: last year, the Twitter admission of politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez according to which she had difficulty mastering Spanish drew many favorable comments. .
“Selena is one of the reasons I decided to improve my Spanish and become a teacher,” Ramírez explains of her daily work. “I use her example to teach my students that it’s okay to learn more about their roots and their language later in life, even if it’s not spoken at home.”
It’s also not surprising, he says, that the beleaguered Latinx community, largely ignored by America’s two major political parties until they needed votes, found Selena a picture to celebrate. “When our soon to be ex-commander-in-chief calls us rapists and criminals, a figure like Selena enables us to find self-love. She shows people that the Latinx community in the United States is a force to be reckoned with and that we are here to stay.
A similar thought drove the Selena for Sanctuary concerts, which came about because Muñoz wanted to respond to the Trump administration’s toxic immigration policies, including separating families, placing children in cages and increasing ICE raids. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] on those they suspect to be undocumented. “In the spring of 2017, we were adjusting to the new administration and all the frightening rhetoric that was used to attack our city’s title of sanctuary,” says Muñoz. “The first concerts were in Los Angeles [and set up] to raise funds for my parents [who were undocumented] and lots of friends, but we had so much support that we were able to help immigrant rights nonprofits from coast to coast.
The decision to use the not particularly political Selena as a figurehead came, because “Selena is a universal language of joy. Her cross success has opened a way for our community to thrive… She has allowed us to accept ourselves for who we are, [the fact that we are] neither from here nor from there.
Bronx-based dental hygienist Mariel Guerrieri Valinotti agrees: “She is still a symbol of pride for Mexicans in the United States, not only for her success, but because her life has been taken in a very… unfair manner. », She declared. “People are still crazy about it, the same way they are crazy about immigration laws.”
It is also the case that in death Selena has become an image on which ideas can be projected. For Rojas, she is a symbol of the “empowermen” that shows young Latinx women that they too can become stars; for Ramírez, she has become “a symbol of Latinx identity in the United States … having taught us that instead of assimilating to European ideals of beauty, we can bring our culture to mainstream America and it can be loved. and accepted. “
Ultimately, however, its continued appeal comes down to one thing: this hummable, joyful music: “After 10 years of playing in and around Texas, I can confidently say that nothing moves the crowd better than Selena’s music, ”Ramírez says.