Selena Forever! How Family and Fans Are Keeping the Icon’s Memory Alive

Twenty-five years after her death, Selena Quintanilla’s candle continues to burn brightly

Illustration: Dia Pacheco

SSelena Quintanilla-Pérez was a 23-year-old Grammy-winning rising star bringing Spanish lyrics to the charts when she was murdered in 1995. I was only five when Selena was killed. My mom tells me that when the 1994 hit “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” used to play, I would sing the chorus to my newborn sister.

Selena is the first Latina role model I had. She broke through glass ceilings and was unapologetically her phenomenally Mexican American self. Watching videos of her perform enchanted me; no one else with her mainstream fame was singing in Spanish at the time. Selena radiated female power. Her confidence was intoxicating. She was destined for greatness and was breaking the mold of what it meant to be Latina in the United States.

In the quarter-century since the artist’s untimely death, the queen of Tejano music — a genre that originated at the Texas-Mexico border — has been honored in many ways. Through films, music, artwork, museums, murals, and brand collaborations, la reina’s legacy continues to live on beyond the tragedy that took her life, keeping her songs and alma in the hearts of new and old fans alike.

PPosthumous tributes over the past 25 years have included massive street art murals, countless cover bands, and Selena-themed brunches where guests dress up in the singer’s iconic looks. The Selena Museum in the Q-Productions’ headquarters in Corpus Christi, Texas, displays some of the singer’s costumes and is operated by the Quintanilla family. Texas lawyer Ana-Maria Ramos filed a bill to make Selena’s birthday, April 16, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez Day.

Recently, Netflix collaborated with the Quintanilla family for the new Selena: The Series scheduled to premiere in 2020. Selena is immortalized at Madame Tussauds Hollywood and at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with a record-breaking crowd of 4,500 attendees at the ceremony. In 2017, the National Museum of American History had its own exhibit on Selena.

Even in death, Selena’s dreams are being realized.

Selena’s global fan base remains ecstatic about brand collaborations that honor their queen. A Change.org petition created by Patty Rodriguez garnered signatures from 37,000 fans begging for MAC to create a Selena makeup line. As a result, in 2016 MAC launched the Selena collection inspired by the artist’s music, style, global influence, and beauty. Selena’s older sister and bandmate, Suzette Quintanilla, was deeply moved by the petition. “It was a powerful message from fans who loved my sister and what she represented,” Suzette told ZORA.

Suzette has once again joined forces with MAC to create a second line of cosmetics that honor her sister’s legacy and beauty. The new Selena La Reina collection will be revealed in early April. “We hadn’t launched the first collection yet but I had this idea about celebrating my sister’s 25th anniversary,” Suzette said.

“We always did our makeup together on the road when we were touring. I would always seem to find my mascara in her makeup case instead of mine,” Suzette recalled. “At the time of her passing, Selena was actually working on a makeup line. I’m forever grateful to MAC for allowing me to bring her dream to life.”

The collection is just another way to pay homage to the singer’s iconic style and lasting memory. “The inspiration behind the packaging is Selena’s iconic rhinestone bra. I chose the colors for the collection with our mother. I truly loved looking over at my mom, smiling and laughing, while we did this together,” Suzette said.

Beyond makeup, Suzette has continued to keep her sister’s passion for fashion alive by launching official Selena merchandise available in various retailers such as Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Target, and more. Last year, Forever 21 released Selena: The White Rose Collection, celebrating the singer with a launch attended by Suzette who met with Selena fans.

Selena’s success and visibility continue to be an inspiration to Latinas today.

While I don’t own any Selena memorabilia, I and countless other fans turned to Selena’s music in times of heartache and times of joy. She unified people across Latin America by incorporating cumbia, reggae, and other sounds from the region into her work. Selena’s success was unstoppable and, at the time, unheard of for a Latina singer.

Her 1990 album, Ven Conmigo, was the first Tejano gold record as it sold over 500,000 albums — it eventually went double platinum. The singer made history again when she was the first Tejano female artist to win best Mexican American album for Live! at the Grammys in 1993. “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” took the lead on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart in 1994 and remains one of her most popular songs to this day.

Fans have kept her music on the top of the charts. Six of her albums have held the number one spot on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart in the quarter-century since her passing. The Dreaming of You album was released after her death and hit the top of the Billboard 200 in 1995 — it was the first album by a Latina to hit number one.

Suzette remembers her sister as a “Latina who broke down barriers and dreamed big.” Even in death, Selena’s dreams are being realized. Her music continues to make an impact on female Tejano singers and new Latina artists. She paved the way for Latina performers such as Jennifer Lopez, who had the honor of playing the songstress in the 1997 Selena biopic. Groundbreaking entertainers like Selena Gomez, Eva Longoria, Shakira, Daddy Yankee, and Beyoncé name Selena as a major inspiration for their careers.

“If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away. Always believe that the impossible is always possible.” — Selena Quintanilla, 1994

This level of fame and recognition is not always the case for Latina artists. Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, said the discrimination his own band faced eventually made them abandon performing in the 1960s. Although Selena was a trailblazer for Latina artists, racism and xenophobia are still very real roadblocks for Latino musicians, artists, and actors aiming to break into the entertainment industry.

Selena’s appearance made me feel more comfortable with my own. She looked like she could be my prima with bronze skin and dark brown hair and eyes. She embraced her curves and celebrated her Latina heritage. She represented me in a way no one else did at the time, and Selena’s success and visibility continue to be an inspiration to Latinas today.

“If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away. Always believe that the impossible is always possible,” Selena said, and fans are still dreaming of Selena and keeping her memory alive. As her fans say, anything for Selenas! Selena’s candle continues to burn brightly. Twenty-five years after her passing, her persona is bigger than ever. Selena forever!

Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist writing about sustainability, travel, culture, wellness, lifestyle, and more.

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