Celebrating April 16 as Selena Day

The Tejano icon would have been 51 this year. Photo via mcadvocate.com

OWEN MADRIGAL | STAFF REPORTER | omadriga@butler.edu

Before the Latin music boom of the late 2010s, there was the queen of Tejano who took over the music industry in the mid to late 90s: Selena Quintanilla. Often shortened to just her first name, Selena was a singer, songwriter, designer, entrepreneur, actress and model. 

During these times of both her death and birthday, it is difficult not to reflect on what Selena has brought to the culture of Latin music and pop culture. Her bubbly personality in addition to the unique Tejano music she spearheaded into the global market cemented her as an icon. Her legacy is strong, even to this day.

Selena was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas. Coming from a Mexican family, she spoke both English and Spanish from a young age, although she did not speak Spanish fully fluently. Her father, a musician himself, facilitated her love for music and singing. She sang in her family’s band at the age of 10, which would eventually lead to her music career.

Her illustrious career began in 1989 with her eponymous debut album “Selena.” Working with her brother as her producer, the album introduced the eighteen-year-old Selena to the world of music as a solo musician. Her follow-up “Ven Conmigo” was released the next year and went triple platinum, selling over three million copies according to the Latin RIAA. Her third album “Entre a Mi Mundo” sold over 10 million copies.

During her shining career, Selena always had huge success as a crossover artist. “Selena Live!”  won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American album in 1994. Selena’s final studio album, “Amor Prohibido” was released in 1994 and was her biggest album. The album contains her signature hit, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” 

Her impact on Tejano music was almost immediate and widespread. A male-dominated genre at the time, Tejano music is characterized by the blend of regional Mexican music and European polka. Other influences include R&B, folk, jazz and blues. 

However, Selena’s life was cut unfortunately short on March 30, 1995. The Selena fan club and boutique manager Yolanda Saldívar shot Selena in a Texas motel parking lot following disputes over Saldívar embezzling money. Selena passed away from blood loss that morning at the young age of 23.

As a proud Latina, Selena blazed new paths for female artists and captured the attention of a wide variety of audiences. Senior anthropology and history major Ericela Sahagun highlights this and another one of her biggest accomplishments.

“I think a highlight is just the fact that she was able to gain popularity and audiences, not only in Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico but also to have a following in the United States,” Sahagun said. “She was one of the first artists to do that, especially in a different language. The career highlight for me that pops in my head is the fact that she sold out the Houston Astrodome. That was her last performance, and it was super big. I’m sure other people have probably sold it out, but at the time, that was really big.”

Selena is also a huge part of feminist culture in Spanish-speaking countries. She stood against the traditional roles women play in Hispanic cultures and defied what it meant to be a woman. Selena started earning a business degree during her career and went on to own her own businesses and boutiques. She did all this in a male-dominated music industry within a male-dominated culture. Sahagun believes Selena earns a well-deserved reputation as a feminist icon.

“I definitely think that she kind of paved the way for women,” Sahagun said. “It was unique [for her case]. In the new Netflix show, they really painted for viewers how very few opportunities she got and how much she [and her team] had to fight for her to kind of be in those spaces. She fought to have the opportunity to record music and to have her name be out there.”

Senior lecturer in Spanish Elisa Lucchi-Riester also believed Selena’s pride in her feminity was key to her lasting impact.

“To this day, what she represents to a lot of coming-of-age Latina women is power,” Lucchi-Riester said. “She had a sense of femininity and that empowerment that comes with not being ashamed of it and being subjected to the male figure, the machismo culture that is still quite prevalent.”

Selena is not only regarded as a feminist icon but also a fashion icon. From her jumpsuits to her makeup, Selena had a distinct and unique look. With her iconic branded looks, she never tried to erase her heritage; instead, she opted for a reinvention of her culture’s standard clothes. Her iconic looks often go hand in hand with her lasting impact. Partly due to her extravagant fashion, but also her lyrics of forbidden loves, she has become a queer icon for many young Latinos. Lucchi-Riester sees firsthand from everyone around her how impactful Selena is in the culture, then and now.

“[Selena was] the first time people saw this young figure on the screens who was on the stage, who was in the stadium singing with this beautiful voice, but was also not showing to be ashamed of her indigenous roots,” Lucchi-Riester said. “Selena was with no sense of shame — but rather with a lot of sense of pride in being who she was, and how she was without needing to cover it up with makeup, without needing to hide that she was curvy … She was just showing that sense of owning her persona. That was a first for brown skin, very identifiable dark hair, dark eyes, very ‘Latino’ symbolic figure.”

Selena’s impact on music cannot be overstated. Her influence over modern artists are both diverse and numerous. Rosalia, Frank Ocean, HAIM, Beyoncé, Solange and Whitney Houston are only some of the artists who list Selena as a major influence. Selena Gomez was named after Selena herself, who was also a major influence for Gomez’s Grammy-nominated Spanish EP, “Revelación.” Very early in her career, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez played Selena in a biopic two years following Selena’s death. Upon the film’s anniversary this year, Lopez said, “It’s an honor as an artist to have been part of the magic that is this movie.”

Her impact on Tejano music in both Mexico and the United States helped pave the way for Latin artists to come. Because of her visibility as both Hispanic and American, she helped bring two different worlds of music together. One look at popular Latin artists today will illuminate Selena’s impact from American artists collaborating with Latin artists to women in Latin music embracing themselves and identity. Junior multilingual studies student Manuel Alarcon-Nava adds that many still find comfort in her music.

“Her impact is omnipresent,” Alarcon-Nava said. “She wasn’t able to come out with a lot of songs. but the songs are still able to be played and still inspire people and make people just so happy. Her long-lasting impact on both individuals who listen to her music and people who don’t is that they’re comfort songs.”

Fans of Selena, both at the time of her career and today, see themselves in her. As someone who came from a middle-class family, who spoke both Spanish and English, proud to be both Mexican and American, she epitomized an underrepresented group of young Latinxs. Alarcon-Nava said she represented this group’s dichotomous culture.

“There’s this saying in Spanish — ni aquí, ni allá — which is ‘not from there, not from here,’” Alarcon-Nava said. “[Selena is] an icon who embodies that identity of not being American enough or not being Mexican enough. That is able to resonate with a lot of Chicanos in the United States. I think that’s why she’s become such a cultural phenomenon, because so many people see themselves and their experience in her and what she went through and how she vocalizes it.”

Alarcon-Nava feels as though Selena is emblematic of the culture that surrounds her as a whole.

“Selena represents something that I didn’t have,” Alarcon-Nava said. “For me, Selena is the way that I reconnect with that part of my culture.”

For the future of her brand, a new album is slated to be released this month. Although there is a discussion on the treatment of her legacy, her impact and influence go beyond any posthumous releases. Her trailblazing career and enduring influence go to show that Selena is still unstoppable, even in death. She remains the reigning queen of Tejano. 

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