It’s the text I receive at least a handful of times each month from both family and friends: “Selena is on TV!” Honestly, nothing else makes my heart go “bidi bidi bom bom.”
This March marks both the 20th anniversary of the film’s release and the 22nd anniversary of Selena’s death. The passage of time, though, has never deterred the fans of the young Mexican-American artist—myself included—from consuming all aspects of her brand.
Just last weekend, 55,000 devotees traveled to Selena’s native Corpus Christi to attend Fiesta de la Flor, a music festival created in her honor. And believe me, it’s been a bitch trying to get my hands on the Selena MAC collection. (Um, for my sister.)
She remains relevant today because her family and writer-director Gregory Nava decided to share her gifts to the world through cinema: I’ve happily dropped everything just to sit and watch Selena because of its intimate depiction of a life I grew up with in South Texas, one rife with synthesizers and accordions.
It’s also a damn good movie with enough quotable moments to make you want to do the “washing machine” dance Selena’s mom tries teaching her.
And I guarantee you that any Latino can tell you where they were when they first heard that cholo in the convertible the coo, “Anything for Selenas!” when his bumper is yanked off by her tour bus.
Or when Selena politely shut down that saleswoman with a calm, “We don’t need the dress,” after she wrongly assumed she couldn’t afford the outfit.
Selena offered mainstream America a (highly dramatized) glimpse at a performer who introduced countless Latino millennials to music. Selena Quintanilla had it all: the voice, the moves, the smile, the ambition. She personified the Mexican-American experience for a lot of us, specifically Tejanos. And she still does today, more than two decades after her untimely death at the hands of pinche Yolanda.
Although I distinctly remember her passing (my friends and I cried pretty heavily right before entering first grade that morning), most Americans were unaware of Selena until another relatively unknown Latina, Jennifer Lopez, signed on to play her in the biopic. But her story is one that a lot of us know well: coming from a marginalized community, working hard to get noticed, defying the naysayers, and making your talents the vehicle for your success.
Selena stands as a perfect tribute to the ability to embrace identity and transcend expectations, regardless of language, ethnicity or culture. And you don’t have to be Tejano to feel that way. Why else would people of varied backgrounds—LGBT and non-LGBT alike—feel as deeply about it as I do? Twenty years of constant airings on cable proves that we all enjoy watching someone harness their version of the American Dream.
I’d argue Selena is, at also something of a queer classic: You’ve got fashion (that bedazzled purple jumpsuit is iconic, as is that memorable “busti-caca” from her early performance days); danceable music (I know that entire disco medley at the beginning by heart and am a cumbia menace); drama (Abraham’s bus rant still haunts me, and Chris’s hotel room rampage will always befuddle me); love (Selena and Chris talking about living on a farm with “animals” of their own?) and a diva in complete control of her look and her life.
Say what you will, but Selena owned her image. I’d venture the movie launched the careers of hundreds of drag queens who attempt her up-do and luscious red lips while belting “Como la Flor” or “No Me Queda Mas.”
Her English crossover hit, “Dreaming of You,” was forever ruined for me, though, by the movie’s heartbreaking finale. Now I can only think of the Quintanilla family sobbing at the hospital as thousands gather for a candlelight vigil memorializing “La Reina de la Cumbia.” (It’s basically the Latino version of Beaches and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”)
A lot of the film’s success is owed to Lopez, of course. She embodied the slain singer with enough charm and charisma that millions of Americans will re-watch a 20-year-old movie repeatedly, even with an ending so well-documented. A gay icon in her own right, Lopez has gone on to have a career in singing, acting, dancing, fashion and more. JLo is the Latina star we all wanted Selena to be.
Do yourself a favor and watch Selena again, especially if you seen it in a while. Remind yourself of the beauty of this story about a princess with the ability to bring communities together through song.
“Me siento muy… me siento muy…excited” knowing that her legacy endures, one E! and WE tv showing at a time.