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Cuestiones con Cruz: What did Selena do for Mexican Americans?

This Friday will mark 28 years since American Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla Pérez, more commonly known as just “Selena,” was shot and killed at only 23 years old. Long regarded as the “Queen of Tejano music,” her music has continued to impact generations of all types of Tejano-music lovers, and has been considered a Latina icon for many.

Tejano music, also known as Tex-Mex music, combines stylistic musical elements from Mexican and southern Texas culture. The music fusion combines traditional Mexican sounds from mariachis and bandas with Texan material such as rock and blues.

For those unfamiliar with the singer, Selena was born in 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas, and started her career as a member of her family band, “Selena y Los Dinos.” She and her brother and sister would perform all around Texas, where they were often criticized due to the fact Tejano music was mainly male-dominated.

However, after she won the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1987, Selena “hit it big” and signed with EMI Latin where she released her debut album, “Selena,” in 1989. She was also famous for continuing to keep her music a family affair with her brother becoming her principal music producer and songwriter and her father working as her manager. Additionally, her sister continued to play the drums for her band, and Selena married her lead guitarist, Chris Pérez, in 1992.

Although Selena spoke English, her father taught her how to sing in Spanish so she could appeal to a Latino audience. During her lifetime, Selena released a total of four albums, and her final album, “Dreaming of You,” was released after her death. Besides being an amazing album, “Dreaming of You” is crucial because it was her first album with English songs. The album hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 and was the first predominantly Spanish album to do so.

The Tejano Queen was also referred to as “Mexican Madonna” due to her iconic outfits. Selena designed all her stage outfits, and even owned a boutique and beauty salon line called Selena Etc. The manager of the two boutiques was the president of her fan club as well as her murderer, Yolanda Saldívar. 

Saldívar was in charge of controlling Selena’s business checking accounts, but eventually lost that position after it was revealed she was embezzling money. Saldívar asked Selena to come and discuss the financial records at a Days Inn motel where she then shot her in the back and killed her. Saldívar is currently serving a life sentence, but is eligible for parole in 2025.

It is hard to say the trajectory Selena’s career would have gone if her life had not ended so soon, but I believe her already high popularity would have skyrocketed, especially considering she was just starting to cross into the English-language music industry. Although some argue her death is what made her so popular, I think the world was begging for a Spanish-English fusion, and Selena was the perfect answer. 

I would go so far as to say Selena would have been Jennifer Lopez before Jennifer Lopez. Of course, I must mention what helped to jumpstart JLo’s career, which is the 1997 biopic film, “Selena,” in which Lopez played the titular role. 

Selena did so much for the Latino community, including still being one of the all-time bestselling female artists in Latin music. She was also the first female Tejano artist to win a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album. In addition to her many awards, Selena served as an example and beacon to those feeling caught between two cultures: Mexican and American. She was proud of her identity and proved that Tejano is its own culture that deserves to be celebrated.

Once Friday rolls around, I encourage everyone to celebrate Selena in some way. Whether that be donating to the Selena Foundation, which provides support for education for children, or cranking “Como la Flor” or “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” remember la reina and celebrate her and all her glory.

Alyssa Cruz is a sophomore studying journalism and Spanish at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Alyssa by tweeting her at @alyssadanccruz.

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