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LA commemorates Mexican-American music icon, Selena Quintanilla




Grammy award-winning Tejano music superstar Selena, who was killed in 1995 when she was 23 years old.
Grammy award-winning Tejano music superstar Selena, who was killed in 1995 when she was 23 years old.
HO/Reuters/Landov

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It's official. Nov. 3 is now Selena Day in Los Angeles. The iconic Mexican American singer, Selena Quintanilla, is getting her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Friday night, 22 years after her death.

Known as the "Queen of Tejano Music," Selena rose to fame in the early nineties as a Spanish language singer. Her crossover into English pop was cut short when she was killed by the former president of her fan club. She was only 23 years old.  

Today, Selena's memory is alive and well, Justino Aguila of Billboard magazine told Take Two. He was joined by Deborah Paredez, author of "Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory," and KPCC listeners Angelica Reyes, Lorena Bernal Cowell, Victor Lomeli, Lauren Romero, Silvia Nevarez, Claudia Pena and Valeria Sanchez. 

"Selena was definitely somebody who changed the game," Aguila said. "The '90s was also a time when I think Latin music was trying to figure it out. What do we want? Who’s our base? Is to going to expand? Is it English? Is it bilingual? And so her influence I think helped carry Latin music to a different place where it was accessible."

"Selena was someone I tried to emulate growing up as a Chicana in the Valley because she was so relatable. I remember watching her and somehow feeling connected to her thinking to myself, 'Wow, she’s just like me.'" – Angelica Reyes

Although her initial rise to fame was within the Spanish language genre, Selena didn't speak Spanish fluently as a child.  "Like a lot of Tejanas who grew up in the United States, she struggled with Spanish and this produced a tentativeness with the language and a feeling of insecurity sometimes around our place as Latinos," Paredez said. "What was so amazing about Selena is that she performed publicly that struggle with Spanish saying, ‘Estoy muy excited.’ And that moment of endearing vulnerability provided, for so many of us like her, this opportunity to say, it’s okay that we share this linguistic neither-here-nor-there-ness with regards to Spanish and English."

"I was introduced to this clunky but confident combination of two languages known as Spanglish. And I was soon using it as a way to express my Mexican American-ness." – Valeria Sanchez

"Hearing that Selena was not a native Spanish speaker like myself just really showed, just because I can't speak the Spanish well, doesn't mean I can't be involved with my culture or with the singing." – Lorena Bernal Cowell

Selena was especially meaningful to Latino audiences in the U.S. for providing a positive and empowered representation in the media. Listener Lauren Romero remembers a famous scene from the Selena biopic starring Jennifer Lopez. Edward James Olmos played Selena's father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla, Sr.

Romero thought that Olmos said it the best. "You have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans. Nobody knows how tough it is be a Mexican-American."

Selena's untimely death hit her fans hard. Deborah Paredez thinks that in part, "Selena’s death, and her life, provided an opportunity for many of us to celebrate some of the promises that our future might hold. But also to have a kind of sanctioned space to grieve. Not just for the loss we felt with her absence but the many losses that our lives were marked by."

KPCC listener Claudia Pena (right) at her wedding with her sister, Julia Valle (left) who passed from leukemia last year. They enjoyed Selena's music growing up together and made sure to dance to Bidi Bidi Bom Bom that day.
KPCC listener Claudia Pena (right) at her wedding with her sister, Julia Valle (left) who passed from leukemia last year. They enjoyed Selena's music growing up together and made sure to dance to Bidi Bidi Bom Bom that day.
Courtesy of Claudia Pena

"It mostly reminds me of my sister, Julia who passed away a year ago. So when I listen to her now, it makes me think of the good memories that we shared together. But sometimes it’s fun to imagine that my sister and Selena are in the next world together. And maybe they’re dancing to Techno Cumbia or singing Como la Flor together. It makes it hurt a little less." - Claudia Pena

Paredez also thinks that Selena continues to stay relevant as a public figure because Latinos continue to face the same challenges in the U.S.

"Part of her legacy and her resurgence I think at this particular moment has a lot to do with the similarities to the particular political moment we’re living in now – between now and the 1990s," Paredez said. "It’s a moment of extreme anti-immigrant and especially anti-Latino rhetoric in mainstream political culture. Being drawn to Selena give us this opportunity to mourn that ongoing and very resurgent situation."

It's true, Selena's fans still look to her as a role model all these years later. 

"I want to be able to show that to my daughter. You can be that great powerhouse just like Selena." – Lorena Bernal Cowell. 

"Thank you, Selena for being a remarkable role model. Your spirit will live on in our hearts forever." – Angelica Reyes.

The dedication ceremony for Selena's star is Friday at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood.