Dear Selena Quintanilla-Perez,
There is something inspiring, yet deeply saddening about you. You have many titles: musician, fashion designer, actress, model, icon, Queen of Tejano music, sister, daughter, wife, friend, and mentor. When I think of you, I think about your love, beauty, talent, kindness, fearlessness, pain, and humanity. On March 31, 1995, your skyrocketing music career came to an unexpected halt, and at 23 years old, you left this earth. Your life was cut short, but the Selena Quintanilla legacy lives on.
Growing up in San Diego, California, and attending Catholic school for most of my life, I took many years of Spanish classes. At the time, most of my friends were already fluent in Spanish, and often, the best way for me to learn was through movies and music. I remember hearing your song, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” for the first time when my friend was giving me a ride home, and it was magnetizing. There is such a warm and energetic spirit in your voice. Even when I was a little girl and didn’t fully understand the Spanish language, your music struck a chord.
I remember when my high school teacher showed us the 1997 movie “Selena” starring Jennifer Lopez, and how I wasn’t prepared for what I would feel watching your life on screen. By the ending credits, I was brought to tears, and by looking around the classroom, I could see how this depiction of you impacted everyone else, too — even if they were unfamiliar with your music.
Selena, you were such a force. It’s hard to fully grasp that you passed at 23 years old — an age I have yet to reach. It’s heartbreaking to see someone so full of passion and brightness pass away so young, and unbelievable that anyone would want to take you from this earth in such a gruesome way. You have been described as having a sort of innocence about you, especially how kind you were. Your smile lit up a room and could make anyone feel your warmth. Tragically, that warmth and innocence was shattered the day you died, leaving me — and many others — grief-ridden.
Over the summer, something made me push “play” on the new “Selena: The Series” on Netflix, and I was blown away by the way in which you valued and cherished your family. You and your family overcame financial adversity in order to survive during the economic downturn in the 1980s. The origin story of Selena y Los Dinos begins with how your family fought to get by while also having fun with music. Your father, Abraham, your mother, Marcella, your brother, A.B., and your sister, Suzette, stand here today to continue your legacy that they have fought for and believed in since the very beginning — and they’re a reminder of your enduring love.
Selena, your fans have created a community and family bond surrounding your essence and have resurrected what it means to be you. Your family is the reason why I have the privilege to see a snapshot of your life, as they executive produced your series on Netflix and have worked to complete some of your dreams. The Quintanilla family has been open to share a piece of you with the world, and let people like me — who were not alive when you were alive — experience a little bit of your magic.
Recently, on the podcast “Anything for Selena,” your husband, Chris Perez, was interviewed for the 26th anniversary of your death. The episode was recorded in Joshua Tree, California, right where the music video for “Amor Prohibido” was shot. When he said, “There’s so much more to her that people don’t think it’s a good idea to let out…” I felt like I got a better understanding of who you are. He’s right: there’s so much the world doesn’t know about you. We may not all know the real you, but we strive to be a part of your legacy, as it is your enigmatic nature that draws people like me to you.
Selena, despite you not being here with us today, there are many people who adore you and are inspired by you — people who take it upon themselves to make sure your story lives many lifetimes. To this day, in the comment sections of your music videos, people share how you give them chills, how you’re their role model, or how they’re glad a new generation is connecting with you through your music. Since I never got to meet you or hear you perform live, my personal puzzle to solve is exploring what draws me into your light — even 26 years after you are gone.
I have healed through your music and through finding a speckle of your brightness in myself. Selena, when I remember you, I remember a fearless, kind, and extremely talented woman. I look up to you. When I look in the mirror, it is my hope to capture a little bit of what you left behind. Even though I wasn’t born when you were alive, there is something special about how your legacy endures, and I will always be “dreaming of you.”