Memories of Selena: Queen of Tex-Mex and Iconic Figure for Chicanas
Yesterday, March 31, marked a tragic and celebratory date for me -- the 21st anniversary of Selena Quintanilla-Perez’s death. An icon that I have looked up to since I was a young girl and same goes for many young Latinxs across the country. Selena was a formidable Mexican American singer and songwriter who was termed the Queen of Tejano Music. She brought together Tejano music and pop and -- in many ways -- her image and artistry crossed many borders that had never been breached before by a Latinx person, let alone a Latinx woman.
As women’s history month draws to a close, I’m left reflecting on my own experience in finding my first feminist icon. In a culture where the majority mainstream feminist icons are White, finding someone like me was never an expectation. The women I would see on Spanish language media like Univisión or Telemundo didn’t look like me; they were hyper sexualized light skinned, model-esque women.
But Selena changed that. She was very present in my childhood; there are home videos of my sister and me dancing cumbia to her song, Como la Flor. My sister and I looked up to her, we wanted to be her, and in many ways we were like her. We were also Mexican-American, born and raised in the United States, didn’t speak perfect English, and were in between two worlds like many first generation individuals. It was the first time in our lives that we identified with someone so strongly.
That’s why I still remember when my parents broke the news to me and my sister that Selena had been killed; it’s a moment that still fills me with emotion, I was heartbroken. My idol had died. Today, her fame and cult following is stronger than ever; she has transformed to an almost patron saint-like figure that people adore and revere. People have held onto Selena because she was a pioneer in music, fashion, and identity. Selena owned her body and was unapologetic about being a second generation Tejana.
Some people have highlighted Selena’s positions on abortion and sex before marriage to undermine her credentials as a sex-positive role model – whatever her views on those subjects when she was alive, it can’t be denied that Selena provided a strong feminist perspective to her appearance, her music and her life. I think it’s crucial to not only see Selena as an artist, but as a role model that gave hope to young Latinxs like me. She taught me it was okay to love myself as a Chicana, and she still lives on in my heart and in my identity. Es todo lo que me queda de tu amor, solo fotos y recuerdos…
Mayra Sierra is a Latinx Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.