Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Tejano Star’s tragic death. El Mundo Director of Digital Media, Elvis Jocol Lara, takes some time to reflect on her legacy.
By: Elvis Jocol Lara
To listen to Selena is to have my childhood flash before my eyes. Her music is the soundtrack to countless family parties and car trips. Words cannot adequately explain what “La Reina del Tex-Mex” means to Latinos, especially those born and raised in the United States. Many have tried, but there is simply no easy way to describe to someone who wasn’t touched by Selena, what she means to us. Selena was us. Whether you are Chicana, Nuyorican, or Guatemalan-American like myself, she represented who we saw ourselves as and who we wanted to be.
As Edward James Olmos said in the movie, “Selena,” she had to be “more American than the Americans and more Mexican than the Mexicans” – an all too familiar conundrum for generations of US born Latinos. She straddled the cultural lines between Latina and American in a very public manner with grace and talent not seen before or since.
She was the first artist that I can recall whose records were played at my family parties and sung by my white classmates in school. Everyone knew songs like “Dreaming of You” and “I Could Fall in Love” and her movie was a seminal moment for Latinos. For the first time, white America was learning about us and one of our heroes, rather than the other way around.
Just as impressive – and this cannot be understated – is the manner in which she was able to unite Latinos of all walks of life and backgrounds. It’s a dirty little secret within the Latino community that Latinos of different nationalities are often at odds with each other, especially when it comes to music.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Caribbean Latino listening to regional Mexican music or a diehard norteño fan listening to Bachata; it’s just not going to happen. Yet, Selena’s music crossed cultural barriers, capturing the imagination of Latinos from Mexico, to Puerto Rico to Bolivia and everywhere in between. Today, some of her biggest fans have no connection to Tejano culture other than their affinity for her music.
Even 20 years since her tragic death, she continues to elicit strong feelings from young and old, white, black and Latino alike. The heyday of Tejano music came and went with Selena, yet her music is still passed on to younger generations, played at parties and remade by some of today’s biggest artists (i.e. Don Omar). The movie of her life has become a cult classic, regularly featured on the leading English language networks and drawing a multicultural audience.
Taken far too young, her legend continues to grow. Fittingly, her reputation never tarnished and she never faced a public scandal leaving us with an icon that can be universally celebrated. There’s no telling where her career would have gone, or what she could have accomplished (her track record would indicate she might be the biggest star on the planet today), but a couple of things are certain: she will never be forgotten and her legacy will continue to serve as a point of pride for generations of Latinos in the United States to come.
Elvis Jocol Lara is Director of Digital Media at El Mundo, Founder and President of Casa Guatemala and an experienced Marketing professional who has worked with some of the world’s leading brands. A child of Guatemalan immigrants, he was born in Boston and raised in Waltham, MA. Follow him on Twitter @ElChapin and Instagram @ElChapin502