For as long as I can remember, I listened to Selena Quintanilla. The late Tejano singer’s music was always playing in my house; she was the voice of my childhood, her songs ingrained in my brain. While time has passed (the 24th anniversary of her death is March 31 and the 22nd anniversary of the film Selena is March 21), Selena’s legacy is stronger than ever, and as a lifelong fan it’s a beautiful thing to see people still adore and celebrate the iconic performer. However, it’s also followed with the nagging reminder that Selena had so much left to accomplish, which is why it’s also so painful to be a fan.
I was born in 1995, the year Selena was killed by Yolanda Saldívar, so my memories of the singer are comprised of her songs, the film about her life starring J. Lo, and now — with the help of technology majorly advancing since the mid ’90s — YouTube videos of interviews she’d done. Even with her image and voice so tangible I’ve never been able to live in a world where she exists. But while she was alive, Selena made a name for herself as “La Reina de Tejano,” or the Queen of Tejano music. The “Tex-Mex” music she became so famously known for is a genre that, before her breakthrough in 1989 when she signed with EMI Latin and released some of her first big tracks like “Baila Esta Cumbia” and “My Love,” was male-dominated, a genre where women weren’t taking up a ton of space.
At only 23 years old, she rose above that expectation and accomplished so much as a Latina in the music industry. “Tejano music was hard for us because I was a girl,” she once said in an interview with Orale Primo in 1994. “My dad had a lot of problems while trying to set up shows for us or presentations because there are a lot of men who don’t think that women can get the attention of the public. But… wrong!”
In 1994, Selena won a Grammy and was on the precipice of stardom. She was so close, so close, but yet, it was all cut far too short. She was in the middle of recording her first English crossover album which was released posthumously in July 1995 when she was murdered by Saldívar, her fanclub president on March 31, 1995. Saldívar was found guilty of first-degree murder in October 1995 and received a life sentence in jail, with possibility of parole in 2025.
When she died, Selena was not only in the prime of her life but also the prime of her career. While she had a massive following in the Tejano and Cumbia genres — which even spilled out to more mainstream audiences — she was about to make a huge step into mainstream pop by releasing English-language songs. You probably know “Dreaming of You,” the title song off the album that was released after her death. It peaked at 22 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and the San Antonio Express-News reported, “Selena has become the fastest-selling female artist in music history,” noting that Dreaming of You (the album) outsold artists like Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey at the time.
Posthumously, Selena continues to make an impact. For example, the new Forever21 collection celebrating Selena proves that someone who died before many of the store’s shoppers were even alive can still resonate so much with that demographic. It also shines a light on how we can continue to reintroduce Selena to new and younger generations, through fashion and accessories, but also by sharing her music and videos.