“Late at night when all the world is sleeping, I stay up and think of you. And I wish on a star that somewhere you are thinking of me too ... ”
The talent she possessed and the boundaries she crossed were only the beginning of what made Selena Quintanilla-Pérez the icon that she has become.
Crowned the “Queen of Tejano music,” Selena’s contributions to music and fashion made her one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers of the late 20th century until she was murdered in 1995. She was ranked among the most influential Latin artists of all time in the 1990s and continues to be credited for catapulting Latin pop into the mainstream market.
“Cause I’m dreaming of you tonight; Til tomorrow, I’ll be holding you tight. And there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than here in my room, dreaming about you and me.”
Her musical debut was in 1980 as a member of the band Selena y Los Dinos, which consisted of her as lead vocalist, her brother (A.B. Quintanilla) as the bass guitarist and her sister (Suzette Quintanilla) as the drummer. While the group experienced much success, Selena was often criticized and refused bookings at venues across Texas because Tejano music was such a male-dominated music genre. It wasn’t until 1982 that Selena began recording professionally and receiving the praise she deserved.
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Selena’s popularity dramatically grew after she won the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1987, an award she went on to achieve nine consecutive times. She signed with EMI Latin records in 1989, releasing her self-titled album that same year, an album that reached No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Regional Mexican Albums chart.
“I just want to hold you close, but so far, all I have are dreams of you. So, I wait for the day, and the courage to say how much I love you. Yes, I do.”
The “Tejano Madonna” — as Selena was nicknamed — took inspiration from the 1950s Latino legend Ritchie Valens and capitalized on Chicano rock and Latin rock. Her songs “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and “Como La Flor” were some of the most popular songs sung entirely in Spanish, and to top the U.S. charts, since Valens’ rock ‘n’ roll adaptation of the Mexican folk song “La Bamba” in 1958.
With the release of “Entre a Mi Mundo” in 1992, Selena peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Regional Mexican Albums chart for eight straight months. The album’s success caused music critics to claim this as the “breakthrough” recording of Selena’s musical career. The next year, Selena produced her album “Live!,” which was named Best Mexican/American Album at the Grammy Awards — the first-ever recording by a female Tejano artist to win the award.
“Corazón ... I can’t stop dreaming of you. No puedo dejar de pensar en ti, I can’t stop dreaming of ... Como te necesito. I can’t stop dreaming of you. ...”
Aside from the fame and popularity she derived from her career, Selena led the life of any other beautiful, young woman. She loved to tease and mess around with her siblings, she wore what she wanted to regardless of her father’s criticisms, and she became involved in romantic relationships.
In 1989, Selena met and fell in love with her band’s guitarist, Chris Pérez. While Selena claimed Pérez to be the love of her life, her father disapproved of him and forbade their relationship to continue. However, Selena carried on with Pérez, even after her dad fired him from Selena y Los Dinos.
“Late at night when all the world is sleeping, I stay up and think of you. And I still can’t believe that you came up to me and said I love you. I love you, too.”
Selena eloped with Pérez on April 2, 1992. Despite neither Selena nor Chris talking about the elopement, the media announced the marriage hours after the service took place. A few weeks later, Selena’s father apologized to the couple, accepted their marriage, and even took Chris back into the band.
This past March 31, the world commemorated the 23rd anniversary of Selena being fatally shot and murdered by her fan club president, Yolanda Saldívar. This anniversary seemed even harder than in past years due to the fact that Selena was 23 when she passed away.
As fans come together Monday, April 16, to celebrate what would have been Selena’s 47th birthday, I cannot help but feel a terrible loss, not only for the music world, but for her family and close friends as well. When Selena Quintanilla-Pérez died that day in 1995, we not only suffered the loss of a musical prodigy; we lost a sister, a daughter, a friend and a wife.
While it is respectful and good to honor the legacy of a woman who embraced and promoted the Latin American music language, culture and genre, it is even more meaningful to look back on the life of a person who, despite all of the challenges and discrimination she faced, lived her dream and never neglected those who stood by her to the end.
“Dreaming with you tonight ‘til tomorrow, I’ll be holding you tight. And there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than here in my room, dreaming of you endlessly. ...”
Siena Cummings is a freshman at Rocky Mountain Junior High School who loves classic books and movies. Email her at email@example.com.