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Selena: The Woman Who Became An Icon One Cumbia Move At A Time

Selena is one of the greatest Latinx icons in history. Here are some facts about her life, her death, her legacy, and her greatest hits.

There’s basically no Latinx who doesn’t know who Selena was and the importance she has in terms of identity. The craze over the persona she built and that still endures has no comparison, at least in the Latinx community, though her fandom has definitely transcended language, race, ethnicity, cultural identity, and literal geographical borders. Her sudden death shocked millions; I mean, I still remember the impact it had in me as a five-year-old, and how the lives of many were touched by a deep sorrow.

Still, her image hasn’t faded not even a little bit, and her influence in this generation is still strong and powerful. We’ve seen all sorts of homages, merchandising products, and even today’s A-listers remembering the real Queen of Tex Mex. However, beyond the awesome hits she left us, there’s still so much about her that people don’t really know or that should be talked about more often. So, join me in this journey and see how Selena Quintanilla became such an important cultural icon through her colorful rhythm, amazing cumbia moves, and vibrant personality.

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Selena's Biography

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was born on April 16th, 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas. She was the youngest daughter of Marcella Ofelia, a Mexican-Cherokee woman, and Abraham Quintanilla Jr., a Mexican-American musician. Selena showed great talent from a very early age, something her father saw as a great opportunity for the family. When she was just nine years old, Abraham Quintanilla opened his first Tex-Mex restaurant, where Selena and her siblings performed regularly. This gave them the spotlight to become the famous Selena y Los Dinos.

As the band got more and more gigs throughout Texas, Abraham Quintanilla started a real promotion plan to put them on the spotlight. Soon, the entire family started touring the region. However, it wasn’t a fairy tale or the glamorous life they had envisioned. Actually, most of the time, they didn’t even have money for gas or food, and they had to perform on the streets to keep going.

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In 1984, all their hard work seemed to pay off when the band recorded their first LP, Selena y Los Dinos. Their smartest move probably was finding a record company that let them sing in Spanish. At the time, the Tex-Mex genre was a male-dominated one in which many thought singing in English would create a bridge between the Mexican and American communities of the region. Their insistence ended up making them a unique band and Selena the real Queen of the genre.

Just three years later, Selena was already a huge Tejano star after winning Female Vocalist of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards. This opened many doors for her and the band to the point that she became a star not only in the South of the US, but also in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Her songs were everywhere, her face was worshiped by millions, and her fashion style set tons of trends we still follow nowadays. Selena had a unique light that drew everyone to her, until it was suddenly and tragically extinguished.

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Who is Yolanda Saldívar?

Selena’s death is perhaps one of the most infamous celebrity crimes out there. Not only was the fact that she was a very young woman at the peak of her life and career shocking, but the fact that the one who killed her was actually the person who called herself her biggest fan and confidant, was just too much to handle.

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Let’s go back in time. In 1991, Yolanda Saldívar took her niece to a Selena concert. She was completely hooked with her personality and stage presence. The day after, she wanted to buy souvenirs or get anything with Selena’s likeness, but she didn’t find much. This gave her the idea to found a fan club to promote her and commercialize her image. After several attempts to reach Abraham Quintanilla, she finally got the approval to create the club.

As president of Selena’s fan club in San Antonio, she was responsible for recruiting fans. She also charged them $22 dollars to become a member, and in exchange, she arranged meetings with Selena and gave them merch products. Allegedly, all the proceedings were donated to charities that Selena herself supported, and thus, Saldívar made of the fan club one of the biggest at the time.

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Some months later, Saldívar managed to finally meet her idol. Both of them became really close friends to the point that she became a member of the family. Then, by 1994, Selena wanted to take her business to the next level. To start with, she opened two boutiques called Selena Etc., one in Corpus Christi and one in San Antonio. Since Abraham was really busy managing Selena’s music career, he decided to appoint Saldívar as manager of the fashion line.

In September of that year, Selena personally signed her friend as her registered agent for the boutiques. This gave her full access to the business’ information and bank accounts. However, after just a few months in charge, instead of growing, the business started to go in decline. The boutiques had barely enough money to pay bills and there wasn’t a clear explanation to where the earnings where going. Besides that, employees started complaining about the ill-behavior Saldívar had towards them when none of the family was around.

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Abraham Quintanilla, who was very protective of the family business started to suspect Saldívar was doing something fishy. By January 1995, one of Selena’s cousins started working at the boutiques in an attempt to help expand the business to Mexico, one of Selena’s biggest fandoms. But she quit just one week later, claiming that Saldívar was making a mess of the business. Not only that, she discovered there were missing receipts from the boutiques’ accounts.

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By that time, Abraham also started getting letters from really angry fans who claimed they had paid their membership to the club, but hadn’t received any of the promised benefits. After doing some investigation, he discovered Saldívar had embezzled around sixty thousand dollars through the fan club and the boutiques. Some months later, together with her father, Selena faced her friend with evidence of what she had done. They told her that unless she gave them evidence proving her innocence, they would involve the authorities. Saldívar just ran away from the meeting, forcing Abraham to cut all communication between her and Selena.

Still, Selena wasn’t that sure about leaving Saldivar out of the equation, either out of fear she would attempt something with the information she still had or because she still felt they were friends and there would be an explanation for everything, so she didn’t cut off all ties with her. According to Abraham, throughout the month of March, Saldívar attempted to murder Selena four times, some of which were stopped by outside circumstances or her own cowardice.

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How did Selena die?

On March 29, 1995, Saldívar called Selena to tell her she had been raped in Mexico and was bleeding as a consequence. She asked her to take her to the hospital, but it was very late, and her husband had suggested she shouldn’t be alone with Saldívar that late at night. The following morning, Selena took Saldívar to the hospital and was really angry when she told doctors a different story from what she told the day before. Selena took her back to the motel room and told her it was best for them to stop seeing each other while the situation was taken care of.

According to motel guests, they heard two women arguing in Saldívar’s room. Then, at 11:48, a gunshot was heard: Saldívar had shot her right on her shoulder, hitting an artery that lead to blood loss.

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According to hotel staff members, Selena ran to the lobby, covered in blood and asking for help. Saldívar was chasing her, but when she saw the motel staff, she returned calmly to her room. Meanwhile, Selena was still screaming and asking for help. Immediately, they called 911 while Selena told them who had shot her and Saldivar’s room number. It’s believed her last words were “Yolanda… 158.”

Soon afterwards, the ambulance reached the motel, but Selena was already unconscious and her heartbeat was really low. She was taken to the hospital, but upon her arrival, most of her vital organs had already shut down. When she arrived, she was brain dead, had a collapsed lung, and internal bleeding. Despite the efforts to bring her back, she died of blood loss and cardiac arrest.

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Selena's Legacy

Her death made a huge impact not only amongst her fans, but all over the world. A young and successful music star had just been killed, joining a devastating list of young icons. But besides the morbid interest around her death, this event ended up creating a legend with a huge cultural legacy that still survives.

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Not only did she take Tex-Mex to a global spotlight, something no artist of the genre had accomplished before, she actually opened the doors for endless Latinx artists into an English-dominated industry. We could even say, some of the musicians we enjoy today on a global level wouldn’t have reached that status without her music and image. Not only that, with her persona, she managed to create an identity bridge between the Latinx community in the US and Latin America, who had been somehow distant over decades.

Just to put into numbers her success and the cultural impact she had, she was the third female artist in the history of the US to sell over 300,000 copies in just one week, only after Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. Even today, her music is still selling, not to mention the business her image represents through merchandising.

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Selena Songs and Hits

After conquering the Spanish-speaking industry, it was time for Selena to reach a more mainstream market. Despite the fact that she initially (and smartly) targeted the Hispanic market, her actual mother tongue was English. From the beginning, her father taught her the correct phonetics to perform in Spanish, but she never really learned how to speak the language, something that can be noticed in her songs. Still, her songs in Spanish are the most iconic ones that have become real anthems for Latinxs around the world. Here are the best of the best:

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"La Carcacha" - Entre a Mi Mundo

"El Chico del Apartamento 512" - Amor Prohibido

"Como La Flor" - Entre a Mi Mundo

"Si Una Vez" - Amor Prohibido

"Techno Cumbia" - Amor Prohibido

"No Me Queda Más" - Amor Prohibido

"Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" - Amor Prohibido

“Dreaming of You” - Dreaming of You

"Amor Prohibido" - Amor Prohibido

“La Llamada” - Selena Live!

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Selena Quotes

While many believe that Selena was a product made by her father (which is partly true), there’s no doubt that she had a clear idea of who she was and what she wanted to portray as a role model. Despite her very young age, she proved to be quite a mature and centered woman. Here are some of the best quotes she delivered at interviews we should all take into account to achieve our goals.

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"If you have a dream, don't let anybody take it away."

"Always believe that the impossible is always possible."

"Tejano music was hard for us because I was a girl. My dad had a lot of problems while trying to set up shows for us or presentations because there are a lot of men who don't think that women can get the attention of the public. But ... wrong!"

"The reason I'm really appreciative of everything that's going on around me is because of the fact that I never expected it, and I want to keep that attitude."

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"All I need to do is try and do the best that I can do."


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