During Hispanic Heritage Month, many Hispanic heroes are being highlighted and remembered. One very famous trailblazer being highlighted all over the world is Selena Quintanilla. She is personally my favorite Latin-American artist ever. Selena, for the Mexican-American community and the overall Hispanic-American community, is an inspirational role model.
Selena was born on April 16, 1971, in Texas. Her parents owned a family restaurant and that is where her musical career started. At a very young age, she started singing “oldies,” as she would call them, in English. Spanish was not her first language as her parents were first-generation Mexican-Americans, which made her second-generation.
Her father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., then transitioned her into singing in Spanish. She learned her lyrics phonetically, and then eventually learned how to speak a little bit of Spanish. Being a non-Spanish Mexican-American in Texas was normal. In the early ‘80s, Texas was still predominantly white.
She would sing lead, her brother, A.B., would play guitar and her sister, Suzette, would play drums. It was a family business, their father would manage and produce them through weddings and clubs. These small events gradually turned into larger concerts around Texas and the surrounding states.
Selena took to homeschooling and focused on her family music group, Selena y Los Dinos. This was a very uncommon thing in the ‘80s, not so much now. This decision was essential to forming her very successful career.
Selena y Los Dinos produced a few albums under a few indie labels which charted in the Latin charts but not the U.S. She won the Tejano Music Award for Best Female Vocalist in 1987 and continued to win it for nine consecutive years. Selena then signed with EMI Latin in 1989 and released “Selena,” this album alone outsold all other albums from female Tejano singers.
From this, she released several more albums and received record-breaking sales. “Entre A Mi Mundo” was one of her most iconic albums. From this new stardom at the age of 23, she produced “Amor Prohibido” which earned her a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album.
Shortly after her Grammy win, Selena started working on an English crossover album, a project she wanted to do since she first started singing. She performed at the Houston Astrodome to a crowd of more than 61,000 people. After this, she was preparing to finish her English album and start the European leg of her world tour. She was tragically murdered on March 31, 1995, a few days shy of her 24th birthday.
Selena, in my opinion, grew her career along with the Mexican influence in Texas. Tejano stars like her pushed the Mexican influence in the U.S. Along with being an amazing singer, she was an amazing person. She radiated positivity through her entire being. With her success, she could have sat back and enjoyed her money, but she didn’t.
She opened her own clothing boutiques, spoke to students about the importance of furthering their education and even had a brief acting career. She was not afraid to be loud, funny, outspoken and genuine. Her fans, seeing these types of actions from a superstar, fell even harder for her.
Being a female in the majority male Tex-Mex music scene was not easy. Selena constantly showed that she worked hard at her craft, and it showed through her concerts and television interviews. To me, she did it the best. She kept it classy and respectable but she pushed her own boundaries and broke the glass ceiling for future female Latin singers.
Singers like Jennifer Lopez, Becky G and Selena Gomez have given Selena credit for making their path easier. She was not only an inspiration for Hispanic-American singers but for Hispanic-American girls in general.
My parents are Honduran, but even they taught me about Selena. They told me Selena was a role model. And this is coming from my very conservative Christian parents. My parents witnessed Selena’s entire career from start to finish, as did most of their generation. Selena to them meant the American Dream. And she was the essence of the American Dream.
The American Dream is for immigrants to work hard and fight for their children’s future. She started her career in her parents’ garage with peach cans as light fixtures and never once forgot that. Selena’s future shined brightly all across the world. That is what Selena meant for Gen X, her generation.
Selena’s legacy continues to grow today. Nearly three decades after her death, fans continue to listen to her music and teach younger generations of her. Today her fans even consist of people who were not even alive at the time of her career.
Her family continues to release mixes and albums of her. In 2022 they released an album called “Moonchild Mixes” which included songs she sang before she signed with EMI Latin. By digitally enhancing her voice to sound like she did just before her death, fans were able to hear her singing again.
I often think about what her life would have been if she were not to have passed. She was on the brink of taking over the world with her music. Her death left a giant hole in the hearts of the entire Latin community. As a fan who did not get to see her career at all, I will forever mourn her death.
It makes me happy to see that in the end, she did get her wish. That little girl singing in her dad’s restaurant to a crowd of three people did get to become one of the biggest stars in the world. She remains forever 23, but will always be known as the “Queen of Tejano (Tex-Mex) music.” A Hispanic-American icon.