Today marks the tragic 20th anniversary of Selena Quintanilla’s death but her legacy is still going strong- and will always live on. She will always be remembered as the Queen of Tejano (Tex-Mex) music but another reason why she’ll live is on, is because Selena is a key factor as to why representation matters.
I’m a first generation Mexican-American. I was born/raised in a small east Texas town in the 90’s (born in late 80’s). Although, now I am incredibly proud of my culture and heritage I can say that growing up was difficult. I was (still am) a fair skin, bilingual, Mexican-American girl.. Which made it difficult to connect to artists/singers that you would see plastered all over television and media but one iconic artist changed it all for me.
Before artists like Shakira and even Jennifer Lopez, Selena was at the forefront of Latino culture being pushed in the mainstream. She built her empire from the ground up. She went from performing at county fairs as a kid with her siblings A.B. and Suzette to concerts for crowds of 80,000 people. She not only won a Grammy for the best Mexican-American album of 1994 but was the first Tejano artist to win.
I felt an instantaneous connection with Selena growing up. I shared her bicultural experience of being Latina.
Although the U.S. is predominantly English-speaking, in Texas, it’s not always the case. We both went through not being treated with equality because of looking a certain way or having a “difficult” name. Often being criticized for “not looking Mexican enough” or “American enough” was something I struggled with.
I struggled with speaking Spanish as a child so it was comforting to know that Selena studied with a Spanish tutor as her career took off.
There was such little cultural media representation, that when the so-called “Mexican Madonna” (she was dubbed the title by TV journalist, Tom Brokaw) Selena hit the scene our culture took to her like a sponge, we soaked her in. We embraced her because back in 90s, it was rare to see a mainstream Latina on television that actually looked like what real Hispanic/Latin young women without having some stereotype or stigma. She was a just beautiful brown-skinned girl with a curvy figure and upbeat attitude. It just goes to show her importance to our culture.
Selena never realized her dream of crossover success while she was alive, she was planning on recording a full album in English before her unexpected death in 1995, which was her lifelong dream that came to fruition in 1995, after her murder.
Her bilingual album, Dreaming of You, rocketed to the top of the charts and has been certified 35 times Platinum. The record-breaking doesn’t stop there. One of her performance costumes is among the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, somewhere between Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the puffy shirt from Seinfeld. There are also record-breaking TV specials dedicated to her, stage musicals, documentaries, books, an official USPS stamp, a Coca-Cola commemorative bottle, and a film biography of her life (which is one of my all time favorites).
Like many other great artists, Selena has achieved legend status because she died before her time. Twenty years later, the importance of her legacy still lives on. The fans have not forgotten about her, of her humility, and her love for the fans. Selena is a huge reason as to why, nowadays, we have so many more Latinas representing on mainstream media like Sofia Vergara, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Eva Mendes, Becky G, and Selena Gomez.
Selena and her music will continue to live on and she will continue to inspire and resonate with young Latina’s like me, empowering all of us while simultaneously rocking a bustier.