Written by Maggie Chadwick
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss
Selena Quintanilla, hailed the Queen of Tejano Music, is known around the world for her songs, fashion, and, unfortunately, her untimely death. Even though her life came to an abrupt and heartbreaking end, her name and legacy live on. Selena continues to have such an impact on pop culture, especially in the Latinx community, that author Deborah Paredez coined the term “Selenidad” to explain how her death unified the Latinx community and provided many with the ability to imagine alternative futures. The Selenidad phenomenon extends farther than the Latinx community, inspiring members of all marginalized communities, especially in the United States. By taking a look at her life, we are reminded why Selena continues to be one of the most impactful artists of her day.
Selena was born in Lake Jackson, Texas, to a family that had lived in Texas for generations. At a young age, she was the lead singer of Selena y Los Dinos, a small band composed of her siblings. The more they performed, the more they rose to fame, with their father managing everything from behind-the-scenes. Although she didn’t speak Spanish, Selena learned to sing in Spanish — upon the advice of her father — in order to have success in the Tejano genre. Despite the fact that Tejano music was male-dominated, Selena broke through and created a space for women as lead entertainers in the industry. Using her agency through her on-stage presence, Selena became one of the first role models for Latina women and girls living in the United States.
Soon, Selena became a household name, as her songs rose in popularity. She started performing bigger shows, selling out stadiums, and even won a Grammy award for best Mexican/American album. Through all of this, Selena maintained her identity, always staying true to herself. Despite having phenomenal success, Selena never moved to Hollywood or New York City, instead staying in her hometown community of Lake Jackson. She didn’t dye her hair blonde to be more palatable to her white audience. She was “curvy” in an industry that valued thin figures. All of these features allowed her to foster connections with the people of the Latinx community, who finally had someone to celebrate from a hometown like theirs, who looked like them, and who made them feel recognized.
Even though the 24th anniversary of Selena’s death just passed, she is almost more popular now than she was in her prime. Netflix is coming out with a new series about the pop star. Hip-Hop artist Cardi B, who often calls herself “Trap Selena,” used Selena’s clothing as inspiration in her music video “Please Me” with Bruno Mars. Hundreds flock to “Fiesta de la Flor,” a 2-day music festival tribute to Selena that started only 5 years ago.
In this day, 24 years later, why do we still love and celebrate Selena Quintanilla? Is it because of her groundbreaking music in a male-dominated industry? Is it because of her authentic representation of a marginalized community in the United States? Is it because of her untimely death, uniting many people from different backgrounds to mourn a single celebrated figure? Whatever the reason may be, it’s safe to say that the light of Selena’s infamous legacy will not burn out soon.