Selena Qu

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

I’ll admit it, I didn’t know who Selena was until recently. Perhaps this is due to my being from the UK or being born a decade too late, but either way I couldn’t help feeling slightly stunned that I had remained oblivious of such a clearly influential figure in American music for so long. Reading articles dedicated to her, one can feel the sheer love she inspired–in one that I read she was called an angel sent from heaven, in another she was said to be more revered among the Latino community than the Virgin Mary.

For those who are still a bit hazy on her life, these are the details: born on April 16th 1971 in Texas, Selena started performing in her father’s band, Los Dinos, when she was only 8 years old. At 15 she won female entertainer of the year at the Tejano music awards, and it was a title she maintained for the next nine years. Just before her first crossover album Dreaming of You was released, she was shot by a former employee Yolanda Saldívar, and later died from loss of blood, aged only 23.

The story of any life ending prematurely is tragic, but why is it important that Selena is remembered? That she is not simply shrugged off as a star that shone brightly and quickly, and should be left to fade? Indeed, why is it that she still holds such a dear place in the hearts of many?

Firstly, there is what she did for Latin music. She helped pull Tejano out of the classification of a ‘sub-genre’ and brought it into mainstream consciousness, redefining how it was made and received. Here we must also consider the sheer number of Latinos living in America who until now didn’t have a representative of their culture in the mainstream media–she was an inspiration for all bi-cultural people by establishing herself in America’s music history while maintaining her own cultural heritage. She was the first real icon the Latin-American community could pour their love and support into, and many argue there has not been anyone since who has produced the same effect. In death, as with so many other artists, Selena almost became larger than life–immortalised at the moment her career was at its highest–in the public mentality she will always be the young, hopeful singer just beginning to fulfill her potential.

Secondly, she was an inspirational figure for not only Latin-Americans but also for women and girls, as she rocketed to the top of a previously male-dominated genre. In the 80s she was turned away from venues on account of her gender, while in the 90s she was named best selling Latin-American artist. Her image was natural, gorgeous and glowing; she would wear spangled costumes for her shows yet it never seemed overly polished or contrived, she simply radiated vibrancy and a kind of honesty in the way that she remained somewhat untouched by commercialised glamor. She was completely and unashamedly herself, you only have to watch a video of her perform to see that. She used her music as an inclusive force, embracing her culture but not allowing it to exclude non-Spanish speakers: since starting on this piece I must have listened to “Como la flor” twenty times. It‚Äôs incredible how much charisma performers can have, and how even years after their death they still inspire love and admiration.

It has now been over 2 decades since she was shot in March 1995, and thousands are preparing to take part in commemorative services and festivals: the ‘Fiesta de la Flor’ is set to welcome more than 70,000 fans. Despite the years that have passed one can still feel her impact. In her life–devastatingly short as it was–she challenged and broke limitations enforced on her culture and gender, and one can’t help but wonder what else she could have achieved were her life not so suddenly halted.

-Scarlett Evans
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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