As a cultural figure and brand, Selena Quintanilla has undoubtedly transcended the popularity of her music. Within the last six months alone Netflix announced a new scripted drama based on the late Queen of Tejano’s life, Forever 21 launched a Selena-themed capsule collection and Texas lawmakers introduced legislation to canonize her birthday as a state holiday. Even massive pop stars Camila Cabello, Prince Royce and Kacey Musgraves have paid tribute to Selena during recent performances at the Astrodome, the site of her record-breaking run of Houston Rodeo shows between 1993 and 1995. However, while the Quintanilla family remains fiercely protective of Selena’s public image, some fans wonder if her legacy has been over marketed in recent years.
“The impact of her relatability is something that even now we can’t fully understand,” says Rafael Tamayo, one of the organizers behind 214Selena, a Dallas-based event putting a grassroots spin on the annual festivities that come between the anniversary of the pop icon’s death on March 31 and her birthday on April 16. Coordinated by the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, De Colores Collective and Dallas visual arts crew Sour Grapes, 214Selana is one of several events making a splash nationwide during what is playfully known as ‘Selena Season’.
“Her approach to the music was very heartfelt,” adds Tamayo. “We never felt like someone was trying to sell us a record. We felt like she was sharing her experiences with us. You can’t teach that and you can’t learn it. You just have it.”
The organic connection fans still feel to Selena comes into perspective when considering some of the more high profile dates on the Latino calendar. While pragmatists observe and praise Hispanic Heritage Month as an important cultural acknowledgement, it is also frequently criticized as little more than a symbolic gesture. The puzzling popularity of Cinco de Mayo, which ranks nowhere near the top tier of Mexican holidays, is today largely viewed as a cringe-worthy occasion for stereotypes and rampant cultural appropriation. But a celebration of Selena’s life and achievements, the story of a working-class Chicana who found international superstardom and remained humble throughout, makes people feel like they can cheer for one of their own. To countless fans, her experiences are grounded in our own.
“Celebrating Selena means a lot to me,” says Horrorchata, the Brooklyn-based Tejana drag queen that has spearheaded much of the borough’s Latinx LGBTQ nightlife. “Being of a young age when she passed away was really hard. I remember when I found out she died, I lied to my parents and said I wanted to play outside, but I went to cry alone.”
Horrorchata’s journey has taken her from San Antonio, Texas, to New York City and around the world – a distinct career trajectory built on diligent work ethic and unwavering authenticity that one could parallel with Selena’s own. But Horrochata maintains her biggest connection to her idol is rooted in a profound sense of kinship. “I think I just always looked up to her as a beautiful brown girl that became a star but always remained loyal to her beginnings as a Tejana,” she writes via e-mail. “Now that I live in New York City I always like to incorporate her into my work because I want to keep her spirit alive so far away from home!”
These days, the state of media and politics can be unwelcoming waters for POCs to navigate, especially as erasure and antagonistic language continue to infiltrate popular rhetoric. And while Selena’s music is no magical cure for the ills of today’s society, her success continues to be a source of strength for fans hungry for mainstream representation.
“Selena and her music are common denominators across generations,” says Tamayo, reflecting on the resurgence of Selena as a ubiquitous phenomenon. “A story like hers is even more relevant today, especially when the [political] times seem to disregard Latinx and Mexican-American communities. Anyone who isn’t white, really! And because Selena’s music has transcended color, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that.”
Starting this weekend, events nationwide will begin to celebrate Selena Quintanilla’s music, style and legacy. To make sure you miss out on none of the fun, we’ve compiled a list of parties bringing the joys of Selena to a city near you.