Selena Quintanilla Deserves to Be Celebrated This Year – Not Exploited

Fifty-three years ago today, the world was blessed with the birth of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, who became an eternal icon in Latin pop culture and music. Selena blazed a trail for the música Mexicana explosion that we’re seeing today and the Latina pop stars who have followed in her footsteps. Her impact is often minimized in comparison to the circumstances of her tragic death. However, her music – and how she bridged the gap between her Mexican and American identities – continue to resonate with new generations of Latine fans.

Selena Quintanilla was born on April 16, 1971, and grew up in Corpus Christi, TX. She was an Aries, a sign often described as “passionate, brave, and headstrong.” Indeed of conforming with the música Mexicana artists of the time, she paved the way for herself by proudly embracing her Chicana identity. With influences like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Jody Watley, and Gloria Estefan, Selena pushed Tejano music forward and made the genre fresh and palatable for listeners beyond Texas. Into the late eighties, the singer became the top Tejano artist in a genre that men previously dominated. At the Tejano Music Awards, she won best female vocalist and female entertainer of the year for 12 years straight.

After conquering Texas, Selena was ready to take on the world, and she signed with the label Latin EMI in 1989. From there, she released the most iconic albums of her career, including 1990’s “Ven Conmigo,” 1992’s “Entre a Mi Mundo,” and 1993’s “Selena Live!,” which earned her a Grammy award at the 1994 ceremony. She also became the female Tejano artist to win in the Best Mexican/American Album category.

That year, she released the last album of her lifetime, “Amor Prohibido.” The LP yielded four No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. Soon after, she made history as the first Tejano artist to reach the summit of Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart.

On March 31, 1995, while Selena was preparing her first English-language album, she was tragically murdered at the age of 23 by Yolanda Saldívar, a close friend of Selena’s who ran her fan club. Since then, Selena’s family, including her father and manager Abraham Quintanilla, have kept her memory alive through several posthumous projects. In July 1995, the album “Dreaming of You” was released, which included her English classics like the beautiful title track and the haunting “I Could Fall in Love With You.” After her death, Selena continued to make history with the first Latin album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. In 1997, her family authorized the “Selena” biopic, which featured Jennifer Lopez in the star-making role. Through the endearing movie, the world fell in love with Selena and saw how she was just like any other Mexican American trying to find her place between worlds. It’s a story that still resonates with Latine folks in the US today.

It’s important to note that Selena’s music and image belong to her family, and they have a right to celebrate her legacy as they please. In the following years, Selena’s family hosted memorial concerts like Selena ¡Vive! in 2005 and Fiesta de la Flor in Corpus Christi, where her fans could unite in her honor. There was the Mirador de la Flor monument of Selena in Corpus Christi and a Netflix series later followed. There were also brand deals that Selena’s fan base loved. In 2016, MAC worked closely on a Selena makeup line with her sister, Suzette Quintanilla. Due to a high demand for cosmetics, MAC released a second capsule collection in 2020.

While these are great ways to give back to the fans who are keeping her memory alive, Selena’s family has also been criticized for cash-grab moments that fans perceived as disrespectful to Selena. For example, in 2022, the family released the remix album “Moonchild Mixes,” in which Selena’s voice as a child was manipulated through studio technology to sound older. Amidst the discussions of the ethics of creating a project in her name in that way, the L.A. Times’ Fidel Martinez called it a “Selena robot album.”

Thanks to the barriers Selena broke down for Latinas, Mexican Americans, and Mexican culture, her fan base has continued to grow exponentially nearly 30 years after her death. As a Mexican American myself, I’ve also found solace in her music as a gay man. Her songs like “Como La Flor” and “Amor Prohibido,” which detail forbidden romances, have become anthems for the LGBTQ+ community. While promoting “Moonchild Mixes,” I interviewed Abraham and Suzette Quintanilla. As much as it was an honor for me to talk with the family of an icon who has meant so much to me, I was a little disappointed when they appeared to brush off my question about Selena’s connection to her queer fans by changing the subject about how she connected with “everyone.” With Selena’s music being performed by drag queens and recently on “Drag Race México,” her family could try to understand better everyone who makes up her fan base now.

It’s not only Selena’s family that has been called out for exploitative projects. Back in February, Oxygen released the most disrespectful docuseries since Selena’s death, “Selena and Yolanda: The Secrets Between Them.” The series is about Yolanda Saldívar, the woman who managed Selena’s fan club and who murdered the singer. The show, which was not authorized by Selena’s family, attempted to excuse the actions of Saldívar, and it was shameful because this woman would now be eligible to apply for parole next year.

The media needs to move on from Selena’s death, which also keeps the name of her murderer relevant. Thanks to the barriers she broke down for Latinas, Mexican Americans, and Mexican culture, her fan base has continued to grow exponentially nearly 30 years after her death. As a Mexican American myself, I’ve also found solace in her music as a gay man. Her songs like “Como La Flor” and “Amor Prohibido,” which detail forbidden romances, have become anthems for the LGBTQ+ community. Selena’s music has become a staple for Latine drag queens to perform. It made me so happy last year to see “Como La Flor” performed on the first season of “Drag Race México,” which was like a collision of my Latine, Mexican, and queer identities. Like how she lived during her lifetime, Selena showed me to embrace everything that makes up who I am.

To truly celebrate Selena, it’s time to focus on her life and legacy. Karol G recently sported a Selena shirt in the video for her Tejano-inspired song “Mi Ex Tenía Razón.” Shakira later paid tribute to Selena by emulating her iconic washing machine spins in “(Entre Paréntesis)” with Texas-based band Grupo Frontera.

For Selena’s birthday this year, let’s create parties in her honor and play her music out loud. Selena’s impact will never wilt, thanks to the fans who continue to find joy and inspiration from her story.

Lucas Villa is a a Mexican American music journalist who covers pop and Latin music. Over 11 years, he has interviewed pop queens and Latin music superstars for places like PS, Allure, Elle, Rolling Stone, Billboard, MTV News, Paper, W Magazine, Vibe, and LGBTQ Nation.