A decade after her death, Selena’s legacy continues to grow
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — On a recent cold and rainy afternoon, Marta Solis and Patricia Mora posed for photos next to a life-size bronze statue of Selena gazing out at the ocean.
The friends drove 36 hours from Pasco, Wash., to tour Selena landmark sites in the Tejano singer’s hometown of Corpus Christi, a city that has become a sort of Graceland for the slain singer’s fans.
“I still remember being in sixth grade and crying uncontrollably after hearing she had been shot,” says Solis, 22, a teacher and longtime fan. “For me she is a role model, because she got far for a Latina woman.”
A decade after Selena was gunned down by the president of her fan club, her musical legacy continues to thrive, winning over thousands of new fans, many of them young girls born after she died.
But her influence runs far deeper than the music she left behind; she has become a cultural icon for Latinos who see her as a woman who was proud of her roots and achieved her dreams.
“Selena touched a lot of hearts,” says Abraham Quintanilla, Selena’s father and manager. “Her fans viewed her as a positive, humble person and I’ve always believed that in Selena’s case it was just not the music but the person who made an impact.”
The youngest of three children, Selena Quintanilla was born in Lake Jackson, Texas. She began singing at age 6 and started performing with Selena y Los Dinos, the family band, when she was 9. At 15, Selena won the Tejano Music Award for female entertainer of the year and exploded in popularity in the male-dominated Tejano music scene.
By 23, Selena was the reigning queen of Tejano music, a fusion of polkas, country-and-western and traditional Mexican folk music sung in Spanish that is popular along the Texas-Mexico border. Selena and Los Dinos mixed in Colombian “cumbia,” pop and R&B, creating a unique sound that won fans all over the United States and Latin America and earned them Grammy for best Mexican American album in 1993.
Onstage, Selena created a sexy image with her long, jet-black hair and deep-red lips, her dance moves, her skintight pants and rhinestone-covered bustiers. Offstage, however, her unpretentious personality and her devotion to family struck a chord with fans.
Despite her success, she continued to live in Molina, a working-class neighborhood where her family moved when she was a young girl. Her father managed the band; her brother, sister and husband all played in it. They all lived in houses next to each other.
“She never acted like the big star she was, and she always spoke of wanting to have family, to have children,” says Raquel Zamarripa, a 24-year-fan from San Antonio.
Zamarripa brought her two nieces, ages 11 and 10, to visit the Selena Museum, where Selena’s red Porsche is parked in the corner of a room and the walls are covered with the late singer’s photographs and her gold and platinum records.
Glass cases display her Grammy and other music awards and the gowns she wore at award shows and her concerts.
The museum, tucked in the back of the Q Productions building — the company owned by Selena’s father — is part of a Selena pilgrimage that also includes her Selena Etc. boutique, the memorial on the bay and her grave at Seaside Memorial Park — all sites visited by hundreds of fans, many of them children, who come to pay their respects.
“They already love her music so I wanted them to learn more about her,” Zamarripa says.
Selena was about to release her first album in English as part of an attempt to cross over into mainstream American music when she was shot by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of the Selena Fan Club, at a Corpus Christi motel on March 31, 1995.
Saldivar was convicted of the slaying and is serving a life prison term.
Four months after Selena died, “Dreaming of You,” a collection of four English songs intended for Selena’s crossover album and earlier Tejano hits, was released and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart. To date, it has sold about 4 million copies, Quintanilla says.
Killed two weeks shy of her 24th birthday, Selena’s death stunned her fans who traveled from throughout the United States and Mexico to Corpus Christi where more than 30,000 of them filed past her coffin.
Selena has been immortalized in a feature film starring Jennifer Lopez, in dozens of books and several documentaries. But for her fans she has hardly been forgotten and for many children she has become a legend.
“There are so many young girls who come to the museum in Selena-like outfits, it’s just amazing,” Quintanilla says. “They want to be like her, dance like her.”
In Corpus Christi, TV and radio stations are planning a vigil for the fans expected to descend on this seaside city March 31.
Abraham Quintanilla says his family will commemorate Selena’s death in private at home. But the family will be present at an April 7 concert at Houston’s Reliant Stadium to mark the 10th anniversary.
Several performers, including Kumbia Kings, the band led by Selena’s brother, A.B. Quintanilla, Gloria Estefan and Thalia, are scheduled to participate in the three-hour tribute to be broadcast live by Univision, a Spanish-language television network. Houston was the site of Selena’s final concert.
Quintanilla says a musical about Selena will open in Mexico City in late April.
All of it is likely to appeal to people such as Claudia Hernandez, 35, who traveled with her husband and three teenage daughters to Corpus Christi to visit Selena’s memorial.
Hernandez says visiting the Selena landmarks has been a tradition her family has followed for years.
“If people go to San Antonio they visit the Alamo and when we come here we visit Selena’s sites,” Hernandez says. “I plan to teach my grandchildren about her and maybe one day they too will continue our tradition.”