Twenty years ago today, Selena Quintanilla Perez, better known simply as Selena, the Queen of Tejano music, was murdered by the president of her fan club over financial irregularities she discovered. She was only 23.
It was a terrible tragedy for Hispanics who knew her music well, myself included. I remember a news scroll making the announcement, and I was shocked. How could Selena be dead? Who would kill her or want to kill her? She never harmed anyone. She was, by all accounts, a very nice young woman, eager to start a family and expand into the English-language market. She was generous, appreciative of her fans, and despite her sexy wardrobe, known as a wholesome, positive role model for young girls.
Her death shocked the community, and not even Howard Stern could overpower her. He mocked her murder and the reaction by among other things, putting the sound effect of bullets over her music. The outrage was so great and so loud that the self-proclaimed King of All Media was forced to apologize on-air, and even did so in Spanish. In El Paso, a local radio station had recently started carrying The Howard Stern Show at the time, with the tagline, "Howard Stern All Morning, Modern Rock All Day".
That station, or any EP station as far as I know, no longer carries Howard Stern.
There is something that should be remembered about Selena. She truly was 'one of us'. Despite what most non-Hispanic Americans might think, the majority of Hispanic actors on Spanish-speaking television look more like Brad Pitt than George Lopez. They tend to be fair-skinned with light-colored eyes; look up telenovelas soap stars like William Levy (which is his real name), Araceli Arambula, and/or Sebastian Rulli if you don't believe me. Selena didn't fit that description and she didn't try to alter her appearance to fit some mold.
She also was 'one of us' in that Spanish wasn't her first language. She not only spoke English with greater fluency than she did Spanish (which she had to learn phonetically), she also disliked Mexican music in the beginning. Her great musical idol was Donna Summer, not Vicente Fernandez (appropriate for a girl growing up in an English-dominated world during the disco era). In that respect, she is really like many second and third-generation Hispanics who aren't as proficient in Spanish as people may think they are (or should be).
I think her death is a terrible tragedy because she really had still so much to give. She was finally about to break through to English-language radio, with her song Dreaming of You released posthumously. While Jennifer Lopez was certainly the greatest beneficiary of Selena's legacy (becoming a star thanks to the biopic Selena), one can only wonder what would have happened if she had lived.
Would she and J-Lo fight it out for dominance, or maybe have collaborated and done a duet? Would J-Lo have achieved so much if she hadn't had the opportunity to play Selena onscreen (and for the record, despite being Puerto Rican, Lopez did a fantastic job as the Mexican-American Selena). Would she have served as mentor and/or worked with someone named after her (Selena Gomez)? Would she have pursued acting (she had a tiny part as a singer in Don Juan de Marco, but from what I understand she saw this as the first step towards a Hollywood career)? There was so much she could have done, and her murderess took all that from her, over a paltry amount of money.
It has been twenty years. She would have been in her early forties, perhaps with children, and a successful bilingual career, flowing easily between Spanish and English and perhaps embraced by both. As it stands, she remains tragically young, untouched by a changing world.
Age cannot wither nor custom stale her infinite variety.
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