To be perfectly honest, I hadn't heard of Selena Quintanilla-Perez up until that point, but when I saw the trailer to Selena, I remember insisting my mother and stepfather take my sister and me to see it. To this day, her life fascinates me, yet the film's conclusion leaves me with the unsavory taste of sadness. I didn't know her personally, but in some ways, just like many others, I felt as though I did.
Selena was, among other things, an exceptional performer. But having obsessed over plenty of her interviews, it's clear that she was much more than just that -- even Jennifer Lopez, who portrayed her in what turned out to be her breakout role said so:
People like that don't come along every day. There is never going to be another Selena. And as far as music goes, that's what's beautiful about artistry. Somebody is going to come along and move the world in a different way. There was Celia Cruz. There's Gloria Estefan. I'm still around. Marc Anthony is an iconic Latin artist, Ricky Martin. But it's not something that happens all the time. It's a special thing that Selena had. That's why we're still talking about her 20 years later.
It's this very special thing that got me thinking, right as we approach what would've been the Queen of Tejano's 45th birthday had Yolanda Saldívar not pulled the fatal trigger that ended her life on March 31, 1995. I think of all that Selena might've accomplished had she had more time, the many more songs she would've sang, all the interviews she would've given and the children she might've had with her beloved husband Chris Perez.
But then my mind immediately races to what she means to us now and how that might differ were she still alive. Now, to be clear, this isn't me rejoicing at her departure, but more so clinging to the belief that we all come to this earth with a purpose already engrained, and for Selena, I believe that was to emphasize diversity and simultaneously unite a culture in ways that hadn't been done before. She broke barriers that paved the way for Latinos to come. To this point, her passing led to Lopez's success, which included becoming the highest paid Latina in Hollywood at the time -- a revolutionary concept, to say the least.
Deborah Paredez, author of Latinidad, hit the nail on the head when she expressed viewing Selena's career as
an emergence as an icon within the political and cultural transformations in the United States during the 1990s, a decade that witnessed a 'Latin explosion' in culture and commerce alongside a resurgence of anti-immigrant discourse and policy.
More than an artist and a charismatic soul, Selena's legacy will forever stand the test of time because she is a symbol of our times then and a mirror held up to us now. She is a symbol of how far Latinos have come and a reminder of how far we've yet to go.