Remembering Pop Singer Selena, 'The Queen of Tejano'

Remembering Pop Singer Selena, 'The Queen of Tejano'

10:03am Apr 01, 2015

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

She was and is still the queen of Tejano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SELENA SONG)

SIEGEL: Tejano, the regional music of South Texas, was brought to new audiences by Selena Quintanilla-Perez, or just Selena, as she was known. The 23-year-old singer was about to release her first English album when she was murdered on this day 20 years ago. She was shot by the president of her fan club. A lot of people in South Texas remember where they were when they heard the news. Commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza recalls that day and what Selena's music taught her.

CYNTHIA LEONOR GARZA, BYLINE: It was always the same fight when we drove from our small South Texas town of Hebbronville to the nearest city, Laredo. As soon as our mother's favorite Tejano radio station came in clearly, there was no negotiating.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA CARCACHA")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARZA: My three brothers and I howled as the synthesized sounds filled our van. We wanted the station that played Depeche Mode and New Order, but she never relented.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA CARCACHA")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARZA: My brothers and I wanted to do the running man in our neon bike shorts. Our mother preferred dancing polkas and cumbias in Wranglers and ropers. Tejano music blasted at weddings, quinceaneras and fajita cookouts. It was dancing and beer-drinking music sung mostly by men - and that's why Selena stood out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA CARCACHA")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARZA: In those early years when Selena wore her hair short and puffed-out like an atomic cloud, I thought she was as old as my mother. My mom told me Selena was a teenager who didn't even speak Spanish. I didn't quite believe either. After a while, Selena grew her hair out. She began wearing Madonna-style bustiers. Her music sprouted pop, R and B and techno flourishes. Suddenly, I could relate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIDI BIDI BOM BOM")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARZA: I saw her perform at a small town festival. It was the year before she died. I spotted a red Porsche tucked between the mom-and-pop vendors selling tacos and gorditas. A friend told me the car was Selena's. We never saw cars like that along those lonely highways of South Texas. I could tell she was going places.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOTOS Y RECUERDOS")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARZA: It was a drizzly and overcast Friday when a student interrupted my pre-calculus class to tell us Selena had been shot. I rushed home after school to watch the news unfolding on TV. It didn't feel possible. My heart ached for Selena. (Speaking Spanish), my mother repeated. (Speaking Spanish), poor kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING OF YOU")

SELENA: (Singing) Late at night when all the world is sleeping.

GARZA: In death, Selena was elevated to something close to a patron saint. When I listen to Selena's music now, it's the sound of home. She showed me that I didn't have to pick between my mother's music or mine, between Spanish or English, or Latino or American culture. I could embrace it all just as she had.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING OF YOU")

SELENA: (Singing) 'Cause I'm dreaming of you tonight. Till tomorrow, I'll be holding you tight.

SIEGEL: That's commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza on her memories of the singer Selena, who was fatally shot 20 years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING OF YOU")

SELENA: (Singing) Here in my room, dreaming about you and me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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