This article is a transcript of Campfire Stories: Astonishing History podcast Episode 12. You can listen to it on Buzzsprout or wherever you get your podcasts.
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez has gone by many titles: the Queen of Tejano music, the Queen of Latin Music, the Queen of Tex-Mex, the Mexican Madonna, the Chicana Elvis, the Hispanic Marilyn Monroe, and the Queen of Corpus Christi. But to her family, her friends, and her millions of fans, she will forever be known by just one name: Selena. She was on the path to becoming one of the most famous musical artists in history and crossing over from Spanish-language music to the English-music and bilingual market. But one of her biggest fans and most trusted confidants would be the one who would take all of that away.
Selena was born in Lake Jackson, Texas on April 16th, 1971. Her mother was Marcella Ofelia Samora and her father was Abraham Quintanilla Jr. Her mother was of Cherokee descent and her father was born in Mexico. The family were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Abraham was a former musician with a band called Los Dinos and recognized his daughter’s musical abilities early. He said later that when she was six years old,
“Her timing, her pitch were perfect. I could see it from day one.”
The Quintanilla family opened a Tex-Mex restaurant in Lake Jackson in 1981 called Papagayo’s (Parrots).
The family formed a new band, Selena y Los Dinos (or “Selena and the Guys”), with Selena’s father Abraham as the manager, her sister Suzette on drums, her brother A.B. on bass, and ten-year-old Selena as the singer. They played at local events, family parties, quinceaneras, and street corners, slowly building an audience.
Papagayos closed the year after its opening during the recession. The family was evicted and were forced to move to Corpus Christi, Texas. Now there was added pressure for the band to do well. As the band became more popular, Abraham pulled Selena out of school in eighth grade. Teachers had been growing concerned as Selena arrived at school exhausted, and one even threatened to report her to the Texas Board of Education, but Abraham told them off, the first incident of this story that shows Abraham’s… strong personality. Later, Selena earned a high school degree from the American School of Correspondence, a special school for artists where classes could be taken remotely, and she took correspondence courses from Pacific Western University in business administration.
Abraham fixed up a bus that the family named “Big Bertha” that they used as a tour bus. During their first year, they were still broke, singing just for food and gasoline. In 1984, the band recorded their first album called Selena y Los Dinos. Selena was interested in recording music in English but Abraham convinced her to focus on Tejano music, or “Tex-Mex” music, that mixed Mexican and American influence and some Czech, Polish, and German waltz and polka-style accordion music. She learned Spanish phonetically with her father’s guidance.
In 1985, Selena made her first appearance on the Spanish-language Johnny Canales Show on the radio, which she came back onto several times. But the band still struggled to book shows because Tejano music was dominated by men, and the band had a young, female lead singer.
Musician Rudy Trevino has been said to have “discovered” Selena. He founded the Tejano Music Awards, which Selena later won Female Vocalist of the Year for ten years in a row. Selena released five more albums between 1986 and 1988. In 1989, Selena performed at the Tejano Music Awards and two different record companies decided they wanted to sign her: EMI Latin Records, a brand new company, and Sony Music Latin. Despite the fact that Sony offered double the money for a signing fee, Abraham decided the band would sign with EMI, as the label’s first musicians.
Selena recorded several English-language crossover songs for the heads of the label, but they decided she didn’t have a large enough fanbase to crossover yet. In 1989, Selena released her debut album, called Selena, which made it to number seven on the Billboard Regional Mexican Albums chart. The same year, she became a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. Selena’s career was taking off.
Also in 1989, a new musician joined the band as a guitarist, Chris Pérez. He was in a long-distance relationship with a woman in San Antonio, but started to develop feelings for Selena. He said later of Selena,
“I’m a shy person by nature, and there was just something about her that she was able to pull me out.”
He initially tried to distance himself from her to keep the relationship professional, but they eventually confessed their mutual feelings for each other as a Pizza Hut. They decided to hide their relationship, correctly assuming that Abraham would not approve.
In 1990, Selena released her second studio album, Ven Conmigo, and three singles off of the album. The song “Baila Esta Cumbia” from the album became extremely popular, especially in Mexico.
In 1991, Selena recorded a duet with Salvadoran singer Alvaro Torres called “Buenos Amigos.” This was Selena’s first number one single and the music video was nominated in two categories at the Billboard Music Awards. After this, Selena’s music started to gain more attention on Tejano and Mexican radio stations that had initially dismissed her.
In 1992, Selena’s sister Suzette caught Selena and Chris Pérez flirting and told Abraham. Abraham pulled Pérez off the bus and told him the relationship was over, but the couple continued their relationship in secret. Abraham caught them again and flew into a rage, calling Pérez a “cancer in [his] family.” He fired Pérez and threatened to disband the group if the relationship continued. Well, the relationship continued and on April 2nd, 1992, Selena and Pérez eloped, hoping that it would force Abraham to accept them. The media broke the news within hours. Selena and her father’s relationship was strained for several months as she and Pérez moved in together.
Although Abraham said he believed Pérez might be a machista, sort of a hyper-masculine chauvinist, Abraham eventually apologized to the couple and invited Pérez back to the band. Perez later said,
“It kind of hurt his pride and his ego to find out that he was the last to know. When things got tense and things were said by him, it hurt me that he was saying it, but I didn’t let it get to me because I knew deep down, he knew the kind of person I was.”
A month after her marriage, Selena released her third studio album, Entre a Mi Mundo, which charted number one on the Billboard Regional Mexican Album chart for eight months. It hit 10x platinum in the U.S. and was the first Tejano female album to sell over 300,000 copies.
She went on a Mexico-US border press tour, which Selena and EMI records were very nervous about, as her Spanish was limited, and Mexican-American Tejanos were not always warmly accepted by the Mexican people. It was a too American to be Mexican, too Mexican to be American situation.
But the public and the press loved Selena and she started holding massive concerts afterwards, including the largest Tejano performance in Mexico with 70,000 fans. This album also had her signature song “Como la Flor.” By 1994, Entre a Mi Mundo had become the second best-selling regional Mexican album of all time.
Her next album Live! Was recorded at a free concert in 1993 in Corpus Christi. The album won Best Mexican/American Album at the 1994 Grammy Awards and Album of the Year at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
In 1994, Selena also began expanding into new projects outside of music. She guest starred in several Mexican telenovelas. Then she started a major project: her own line of clothing called Selena Etc, which were managed by Yolanda Saldivar. She opened two boutiques to start, one in Corpus Christi and one in San Antonio, and both had beauty salons attached. The opening year, Selena held two fashion shows and played a concert after one of them to drum up publicity. There were plans to expand the store to Puerto Rico and Mexico and Selena earned over five million dollars over the opening year.
Her father Abraham focused on keeping Selena’s image clean and family-friendly, and rejected alcohol sponsorships or anything else he deemed to be too adult. As she grew older, and became bolder and more creative with her fashion, she became a symbol of beauty as well, but maintained that she did not want to include any sexual themes in her music because she knew that she was a role model to young children.
Author Matt Meier wrote that Selena had a “contagious energy… warmth, passion, and sexuality” and had the “down-to-Earth persona of the wholesome young girl next door.”
Selena’s sister said that she was often sewing her outfits backstage seconds before she went out to perform and she said that her fashion was inspired by Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, and Madonna. Her revealing clothes often upset her father, who would leave photoshoots, and strained her relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After her death, several celebrities including Lourdes Portillo and Sandra Cisneros brought up concerns that Selena’s sexualized image was not a good role model for young people, particularly Latina girls.
Selena’s next album Amor Prohibido hit the top of the charts again and became one of the top selling albums in the United States in 1995. It also had a major influence on popularizing the Tejano genre. During and after her Amor Prohibido tour, Selena gained the press nickname “Queen of Tejano music” and the album was added to several lists of the greatest music of all time.
The tour expanded internationally to Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Central America. EMI decided that they should start promoting Selena as an English-language pop singer. She started preparing her crossover album and the same year, she cameo-ed in the movie Don Juan DeMarco with Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp. She was sponsored by Coca-Cola and AT&T.
Now let’s talk about Yolanda Saldivar.
Saldivar was a nurse from San Antonio who was a fan of Tejano music. She originally was not a fan of Selena, because she felt that she repeatedly swept the Tejano music awards when Saldivar wanted other artists to win. But in 1991, Saldivar took her niece to a Selena concert and quickly became a superfan. She said that she got the idea to start a Selena fan club after she failed to find any Selena merch or souvenirs after the concert. She called and wrote to Abraham asking for permission to start a fan club for Selena.
Abraham agreed, and she became full-time fan club president in 1991, quitting her nursing job caring for terminal cancer patients. Saldivar would collect $22 from fans and send them a T-shirt, exclusive interviews and fact sheets about the band, other various products, and updates about future events. She signed up over 8,000 fans to the club by 1994.
Initially, Saldivar only communicated with Selena through her family, but they eventually met at the end of 1991. Saldivar soon became a close family friend and confidant as well. Reporter Maria Celeste Arrarás, said of Saldivar,
“If Selena would say, ‘Jump!’, [Saldívar] would jump three times.”
Saldivar really lived up to the position of official fan club president and then took it to another level. According to people who knew her, Saldivar wasn’t just a friend, she was obsessed with Selena. An article in Texas Monthly reported,
“A woman who moved into an apartment with Yolanda discovered that Yolanda didn’t just have pictures of Selena on her walls — the whole place was ‘like a shrine.”
Guests said that her apartment was filled with Selena posters, prayer candles, and Selena videos that she would play for visitors. Some boutique employees said that she wanted to “be like Selena.”
Early in 1994, the Quintanillas made Saldivar the manager of the Selena Etc. boutiques. She relocated from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. Saldivar seemed like a perfect candidate. She would stay in Texas while the family and the band toured the country. She had successfully run the fan club. And she was close with a family.
But soon after this, complaints started to come in from the boutique staff that Saldivar was difficult to work with and fired staff on a whim. They said Saldivar would put on a “nice boss” act when Selena was in but would drop it as soon as she left. Selena dismissed these complaints, but her father believed them and warned Selena about Saldivar’s behavior. Selena didn’t take these complaints seriously, as her father was not exactly known as the most trusting person.
Selena’s main fashion designer, Martin Gomez, got into escalating fights with Yolanda. He said,
“I told Selena I was scared of Yolanda. She wouldn’t let me talk to Selena anymore. She was very possessive.”
He also said,
“So many things would happen to the clothing I was working on. I knew that I had finished a certain piece, but I would come back from a trip to New York and the hems would be ripped out. It was very strange.”
Salivar started recording Gomez without him knowing and eventually convinced Selena to distance herself from Gomez and focus on designing her own clothes.
In January of 1995, Selena’s cousin Debra Ramirez started working at the boutiques to help with the planned expansion to Mexico, but she quit the same week because she did not like how Saldivar was running things.
That same month, several more people had come forward with complaints about Saldivar. Saldivar told interviewers in 1995 that she was almost “obsessed” with Selena. At the same time, Abraham began to hear from fans that they had sent in money for the Selena fan club but hadn’t received anything that they were promised. The boutiques started to run out of money and the staff was cut from 38 to 14 people because Saldivar had fired many of them.
Abraham investigated and found that Saldivar had embezzled over $30,000 to $60,000 from the fan club and the boutiques. She used the boutique credit card to rent town cars, have fancy dinners, and buy two cell phones (and remember, this was 1995.) She had opened a bank account in her sister’s name and forged fan club checks.
Abraham, Suzette, and Selena had a meeting with Saldivar where they confronted her with the evidence of the embezzlement. Saldivar claimed that she had documents that could prove that she was innocent. Abraham said that he would call the police if she couldn’t prove her innocence and banned her from seeing Selena again. Selena wasn’t so hasty. She said that Saldivar was a key part of the business, particularly the boutique expansion into Mexico, and Saldivar also had financial paperwork that the Quintanillas needed to retrieve.
The day of the confrontation, Selena and Saldivar fought on the phone and Selena and Perez discussed how they no longer trusted her. Selena removed Saldivar’s name from the bank accounts and the fan club.
That week, Saldivar purchased a .38 caliber revolver and hollow point bullets at a shooting range in San Antonio. Hollow point bullets, if you don’t know, are designed to expand when they hit a target, and can be more deadly than regular bullets. She told the gun store staff that it was to protect herself from patient’s families who had threatened her during her work as a nurse.
On March 13th, Saldivar wrote an official resignation and checked into a motel in Corpus Christi. Saldivar asked Selena for a meeting and they scheduled one for the next day in a parking lot.
Selena reportedly told Saldivar she could keep working on the Mexico business deals, which her family said she was planning on doing until she could find someone to replace Saldivar. Saldivar showed Selena her gun, and Selena told her to get rid of it and that Saldivar was in no danger from her father’s anger. Abraham later said that he believed Saldivar may have killed Selena then if Selena hadn’t said that.
Saldivar returned the gun and then repurchased it on March 27th. She asked Selena to meet her alone in a motel room but fans showed up and Abraham would later say he believed there were “too many witnesses” that night for the murder plot.
Suzette said that on March 25th, Selena told her that she was going to fire Saldivar “soon.”
Saldivar avoided handing over the paperwork and claimed that she had been attacked and raped while on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico, which may or may not have actually happened. She had been traveling there to start looking into the process of opening a Selena boutique there, so Selena may have felt partially responsible for this attack. Selena had met a doctor named Ricardo Martinez in 1994 who lived in Monterrey and said he could expand her business. Reporter María Celeste Arrarás said that Selena had been traveling to Monterrey under her husband’s last name and Martinez would later say he had lent Selena money. Their relationship reportedly made Saldivar jealous and she warned Selena that he may be a suspicious contact.
On March 29th, Saldivar called Martinez, hysterical, and told him she had been assaulted. Martinez said that he tried to send a motel employee to where Saldivar was staying to check on her, but she had left the room right after the call. On March 30th, Saldivar returned to Texas and checked into the Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi. She asked Selena to come help her alone but Perez came with her. Selena went in to talk to her and came out. When the couple went home, they realized Saldivar had given her the wrong papers. Saldivar paged Selena later that night and asked her to take her to the hospital. Perez told Selena not to go out that late alone but Selena agreed to meet Saldivar the next day, without Perez knowing. Abraham would later say that he believed this was likely a ploy to get Selena alone.
Before Selena’s death, she told her friends about a recurring dream that some people believe to have been a premonition of her death. In the dream, Selena’s favorite flower, a white rose, was thrown at her, but she couldn’t see who threw it or catch it. Then she would be surrounded by white light. In a video of her last concert on February 26th, 1995, a fan throws a white rose at her, which she does not see or catch, further adding to the significance for fans.
On March 31st, Selena went with Saldivar to a medical clinic to be examined for secual assault, but the medical staff told them that Saldivar needed to be examined in San Antonio instead. Selena and Saldivar agreed to return to Saldivar’s motel room. Around 10:00.m Abraham called Perez to find out where Selena was and Perez called Selena, who told him she was “taking care of one last [item of] business” and then would meet her family at the studio. This was the last time any of Selena’s loved ones would speak to her. Martinez later said he had missed a call from Selena that morning as well because he had been performing a surgery.
They went back to the motel in Selena’s blue Chevy pickup truck and went into Room 158, where Saldivar was staying. Selena asked for all the financial papers that Saldivar had.
Saldivar would later claim that she gave Selena all the documents that she had and her cellphone. But later a briefcase would be found in the room by police with more papers and another cellphone. Loud arguing was heard from the room.
Saldivar became enraged. She grabbed a gun from her purse at 11:48 a.m. Selena turned and went to leave and Saldivar shot at her. Selena dropped the briefcase and ran but was shot in her lower shoulder and an artery was severed. She continued to run about 400 feet into the lobby of the motel, dropping her purse on the way there and collapsing in front of the check-in desk and screaming,
“Help me! I’ve been shot!”
Saldivar chased her, screaming, calling Selena a bitch, as she lay dying on the floor. If that wasn’t enough to make witnesses aware that she was the killer, Selena was able to tell the workers at the front desk that Saldivar had shot her and the room number that she was staying in. She also yelled,
“Lock the door! She’ll shoot me again.” Selena’s last words were, “Yolanda. 158.”
The man called 911 and said,
“We have a woman ran in the lobby said she’s been shot. She’s laying on the floor and there’s blood.”
A motel employee saw Saldivar trying to leave in her pickup truck and a police officer spotted her. He drew his gun and ordered her out of her vehicle. Instead she parked and was blocked in by police cars. Motel guests were ordered to shelter in place in their rooms. She pointed her gun at her own temple and threatened to kill herself.
A FBI Crisis Negotiation Team arrived and began negotiating with her. Agents Larry Young and Isaac Valencia suggested that perhaps the shooting had been accidental and Saldivar agreed.
Several of Saldivar’s family members spoke to her. At hour four, Saldivar told them the story that she had intended to shoot herself. She was crying, pointing the gun at herself, and repeating,
“I can’t believe I killed my best friend” and “I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to kill anybody.”
At hour six, she stepped out of her car, but saw an officer pointing a rifle at her and got back in the car. At hour nine and a half, she surrendered herself to the police. Hundreds of onlookers and fans watched as she was taken away. The same day, Saldivar signed a typewritten confession.
Meanwhile, an ambulance had arrived on the scene within two minutes. Paramedics stopped the bleeding and began performing CPR but they could not find a pulse. Her veins had already collapsed from blood loss, making it very hard to insert an IV.
Selena was rushed to the Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital where she was found to be brain dead upon arrival at 12:00 p.m. The staff tried to save her with cardiac surgery in what was later described as a “heroic effort” but her artery had been severed by the bullet and she had lost six units of blood that they had tried to give her. Fifty minutes into the procedure, Selena was pronounced dead at 1:05 p.m at age 23.
An autopsy was performed on Selena just three hours after her death and confirmed that the single bullet had entered her back, went through her chest, severing a major artery and tearing her lung, and then exited her chest on the other side. The report concluded that she had bled out in minutes, likely in the lobby. Tragically, doctors said that she may have survived if the bullet had entered her shoulder just one millimeter higher or lower than it did.
Her family was obviously devastated by her death. Pérez and Selena had intended on having a big, traditional wedding ceremony for their fifth anniversary, which would never come. Perez became a 25-year-old-widower. In 2021, he told People that
“It was traumatic, it was the hardest thing up until that point that I had ever had to go through. I [still] miss her face, her laughter. She was just an amazing soul, an amazing spirit.”
He said that it was particularly painful to have to finish the album Dreaming of You after her death.
“Them pushing play for me to record the guitar tracks and to hear her voice coming out the speakers in the studio, it was just painful to go in [the recording booth] and have to create parts and make them sound a certain way, when really inside you’re just dying.”
Selena’s murder was massive breaking news. Some people initially believed it was a horrible prank because the news broke the day before April Fool’s Day. An unfortunate rumor spread that Tejano singer Emilio Navaira’s wife had murdered Selena after they had an affair, and Navaira’s manager had to call into radio stations to quickly fight the rumor.
Famous news anchor Tom Brokaw announced the death of “the Mexican Madonna.” The actual Madonna called the Quintanillas to offer her condolences, as well as Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, and Celia Cruz. Dozens of Tejano musicians canceled their concerts out of respect. American singer Rhett Lawrence took out an ad in Billboard that said,
“Music I heard with you was more than music. You will be deeply missed.”
President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton sent Perez a letter of condolence.
Her music was marathoned on Texas radio stations and thousands of fans descended on the city to see Selena’s house, boutiques, and the crime scene. A commemorative issue of People magazine sold over 1 million copies, which an editor described as “unheard of.” People en Espanol, Newsweek en Espanol, and Latina magazine all quickly followed.
The radio stations Tejano 107 and KRIO-FM both held candlelight vigils on the day of the murder with over 5,000 attendees. Several masses were held for Selena and a tribute during a St. Patrick’s Day Catholic celebration. The next day, April 1st, 1995, a vigil was held in Corpus Christi with 3,000 fans and mourners in attendance.
A public funeral was held the next day, with crowds lining up for nearly a mile to pay their respects to the singer in her black casket surrounded by white roses. Before the funeral began, rumors spread that the casket was actually empty, and the family opened the casket to dispel this idea right away, although all video and flash photography were banned. About 35,000 fans came to this memorial, many bringing white roses as a tribute that was asked for by her family.
On April 3rd, a private burial was held with six hundred friends and family members at Seaside Memorial Park in Corpus Christi. The family agreed to a radio broadcast of the service, which a Jehovah’s Witness minister led. He quoted from 1 Corinthians 15, which says in part,
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet….When the perishable has been clothes with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
A mass that day at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, where Selena had planned to play a concert, had 4,000 guests, although a fee was charged for entry, which upset Abraham. A mass with 450 mourners was held in Spain.
Fans traveled from all over the country to drive through Selena’s hometown to leave tributes and flowers at her house, her boutiques, and the crime scene. Police reported that after the murder, fans damaged the motel by taking shrubbery and chipping off pieces of concrete. Several months after her death, an average of 12,000 people were visiting her grave and the Days Inn motel, which had been hastily given new room numbers.
Controversial radio personality (if you can call it that) Howard Stern sparked mass outrage only three days after the shooting when he said,
“This music does absolutely nothing for me. Alvin and the Chipmunks have more soul… Spanish people have the worst taste in music. They have no depth.”
He also played Selena’s music with gunshot sound effects in the background. The League of United Latin American Citizens led a boycott of Stern, Texas stores pulled his items from the shelves, and Sears and McDonalds released statements condemning his behavior because of their past ties to Stern. A Texas Justice of the Peace issues an arrest warrant for Stern on a charge of disorderly conduct, which prompted Stern to give an on-air apology in Spanish, where he said the segment was satire and he did not intend to cause “more anguish to her family, friends, and those who loved her.” Mexican-American singer Linda Ronstadt also feuded with Jay Leno and his co-host Robin Quivers about Stern’s Selena insults on the Tonight Show.
Saldivar was brought directly to the Corpus Christi police station after she surrendered and was brought into interrogation. She waived her right to an attorney and maintained that she had killed Selena but it was accidental. Her bail was set at $500,000. The county jail where she was being held on suicide watch was harassed with death threats against Saldivar and there were some reports that Texas gangs had put out a hit against her.
Yolanda gave a very strange interview to the news show 20/20 the same year of the death, where she gave her version of the murder. Saldivar said,
“[Selena] went down, she grabbed my feet and told me not to leave her and I picked her up and told her ‘just leave. I grabbed the gun, put it to my head, pulled the thing back, and I said ‘if you don’t leave, I’m gonna do it Selena. [Selena] told me: ‘Yolanda, I don’t want you to kill yourself.’ She opened the door. When I told her to close it, the gun went off.”
Saldivar said that the two of them had been very close and Selena had even called her “mom,” a fact that Selena’s family says is not true.
Saldivar was given a public defender named Douglas Tinker, even though his wife told him that he shouldn’t take the case out of fear for their safety. The trial was moved from Corpus Christi to Houston to try and maintain an impartial jury. The judge ordered that the trial not be televised to avoid a “repeat of the [OJ] Simpson circus.”
Saldivar’s trial took nine days, ending October 24th. Saldivar claimed that the shooting had been an accident and she had actually intended to kill herself.
But the jury didn’t buy it. In October of 1995, just seven months after Selena’s death, Saldivar was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to the highest possible penalty of life with the possibility of parole. The Houston Chronicle reported,
“Tears, cheers, and honking car horns mixed with the strains of Selena’s music on boom boxes outside the Harris County Courthouse where a crowd of about 200 people celebrated Yolanda Saldívar’s guilty verdict Monday.”
She is up for parole in 2025. The courts denied appeals in 1998 and 1999. She is currently serving her sentence at Gainesville women’s prison in Texas. According to news reports, she spends 23 hours a day in her cell in protective custody to avoid being harmed by Selena fans. In 2002, a judge ordered that the murder weapon was destroyed and the pieces scattered in the Corpus Christi Bay, which many people disagreed with.
“They made me out to be a monster. I just want to say, I did not kill Selena. It was an accident and my conscience is clear.”
Abraham would later say in an interview,
“It was no accident. It was a moment of rage because she was being fired.”
When asked about the possibility of Saldivar being released he said,
“When it comes to my family and I, we don’t care if they release her today. They can let her go. Nothing will bring my daughter back.”
Two weeks after Selena’s death, Texas governor and future president George W. Bush declared Selena’s birthday, April 16th, as Selena Day. He also said that Selena represented “the essence of south Texas culture.”
Some Texans expressed anger that Selena Day fell on Easter, sparking arguments, which I personally think is silly considering Easter is a different day every year and I don’t think Jesus would mind sharing anyways. He was kind of all about that stuff.
Some people were upset that Selena’s death had overshadowed a mass shooting at the Walter Rossler Company where five people had been murdered. One publication, The Monitor, received a comment that said no intelligent person would find Selena interesting and an editor responded,
“I hope not. That would make for a lot of idiots in [South Texas].”
Selena remains a revered figure. Her music was regarded as emotional, strong, and passionate, and she successfully merged the Tejano genre with pop, R&B, country western, funk, and disco. Several of her songs, including “Si La Quieres”, “¿Qué Creías?”, “Ya Ves” and “Ya No” stood out as focusing on female empowerment.
Biographer María Celeste Arrarás described Selena as a “sweet and charismatic girl”, “playful onstage and off” who “trusted everyone”. She often went shopping alone, even though her father was concerned about her safety. Unfortunately, the true danger was someone the Quintanillas had already welcomed into their lives.
Selena was active in philanthropy during her career. She visited schools and worked with DARE to give talks about staying in school, setting goals, and avoiding alcohol and drug abuse. She sang in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the formation of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, performed a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Andrew, hosted a charity baseball game, another concert to raise money for AIDS parents. She helped out at homeless shelters and spoke out for women escaping abusive relationships, and headlined the Teach the Children festival in San Antonio.
Selena is remembered as one of the most influential Latin music stars of all time, and the most popular Tejano musician of all time. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson said that Selena was one of “the spirited women who shaped the United States” and The New York Times said that she was “arguably the most important Latina musician in the country, on her way to becoming one of the most important, period.” After her death, her stardom became even more elevated, compared to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. After her death Billboard leader John Lannert said that
“The Tejano market died with her.”
The crossover album that Selena was working on, Dreaming of You, was released in July 1995 and sold a record-breaking number of copies, becoming the first album by a Hispanic musician to debut at Number One on the Billboard 200. It has sold over five million copies today and is one of the best-selling Latin albums of all time in the United States. The posthumous success of Selena has also been cited as a turning point that made the American public more receptive to Latin music overall and all the artists after her.
There were many tributes across the country in the wake of Selena’s death. The year of her death, the name Selena rocketed to the top 100 list of baby girl names in the country. The Spirit of Hope Award was created in Selena’s honor to honor Latin artists who helped with charitable causes. She was honored in 2011 with a “Latin Legends” stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.
The official Selena museum was opened in 1998 in her hometown. She’s been inducted into the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame, the Hard Rock Cafe Hall of Fame, the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.
She was named one of the “100 Coolest Americans in History” one of the 20 most influential Texans of all time, and the fifth most influential Latin musician of the 20th century by various media sources. In 2017, her star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with the largest crowd in walk of fame history, of almost 5,000 fans.
The Selena Foundation was established to continue her charity work.
The biographical movie Selena introduced many people with the details of her life. The titular role was originally offered to Mexican actress Salma Hayek, but she turned it down. The movie started being made the same year the singer had been killed, and Hayek thought it was too soon. 21,000 actresses auditioned in the second largest casting search since Gone with the Wind. Puerto Rican actress Jennifer Lopez was chosen instead and it became her breakthrough role, launching her own music career and making her the highest paid Latina actress in American history.
In 2000, a musical called Selena Forever was premiered in San Antonio with a month-long tour and a multimillion dollar budget. For reasons that I can’t seem to get to the bottom of, the musical never made it to Broadway or really reached any national success, and very unfortunately there was no cast recording ever made. Selena’s band, now just called Los Dinos, had a tribute concert for the tenth anniversary of her death in 2005, which was broadcast live on Univision as Selena ¡VIVE! Which became the most-viewed Spanish-language television special in US history.
In 2015, an annual event called Fiesta de la Flor was created in Corpus Christi. Selena has a wax statue at Madame Tussauds, had a MAC makeup line, a Google doodle, a Forever 21 clothing line, and a podcast about her life and impact called Anything for Selena if you want something to listen to after this. This year, she was given a posthumous lifetime achievement award at the Grammys. Every year, over 30,000 people visit the life-sized monument of Selena in her hometown called Mirador de La Flor (or Lookout of the Flower).
Perez vs. the Quintanillas
Selena’s widower, Chris Pérez, published a book in 2012 called To Selena, With Love, which he hoped to make into a TV series. But he was sued by his former father-in-law who maintains exclusive rights to her life story and estate. Instead, Abraham, A.B., and Suzette produced a series with Netflix that has just finished but it has mixed reviews. Critics and fans have complained that the series is more focused on her father and brother’s stories than the actual star. Pérez isn’t introduced until late into the story and he has commented that he was confused and disappointed that no one reached out to him from the Netflix team about his perspective, especially for events where he and Selena were the only people there. He said,
“But, I mean, it’s an easily explainable thing, in that if she and I were the only ones present, who’s perspective are you gonna believe: The person that was there or the person that’s gonna say they were told something?”
The producers of the original Selena movie are now suing Abraham and Netflix over breaking a deal with them about exclusive rights to a television show.
An entire subculture of Selena fans, referred to as Selenidad, has developed in the decades after her death and they’ve had a rocky relationship with Abraham. Selena tribute acts and impersonators have reported being threatened with legal action. One impersonator, Monica Trevino, told Rolling Stone,
“It left me really sad, because she’s my idol. It was taken care of, we spoke with them through my agent, but it just made me really sad. I understand their concerns when people use her actual logo. But I wish they were a little more open to how everyone honors her and pays tribute to her.”
Even obvious fan accounts on social media have reported that they are always blocked by A.B., although this could be explained that he simply doesn’t want this constant reminder.
Abraham told reporters on the 20th anniversary of her death that he was confused and frustrated with the number of tribute events the family has seen over the years. He said,
“It’s crazy. It grows every day with events everywhere, but we’re not organizing them. Our family never got together every year on the day of her murder, because there’s nothing to celebrate, and this year won’t be the exception. We remember our daughter every single day. We don’t need a special day to remember her.”
This feeling also may be influenced by the fact that the Quintanilla family are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not generally celebrate birthdays or holidays.
Pérez believes he was legally exploited by the Quintanillas in his immediate time of grief, as he would have had the rights to Selena’s estate as her widower because she had no will, but he was convinced to sign an agreement to grant the Quintanillas the rights to her story, likeness, and name. He also has expressed hurt over fans that have blamed Selena’s family and team for her death, saying,
“I heard fans that are like, ‘How could we let that happen?’ Come on now. You think that I would let anything happen to her? Seriously? None of us thought that that was even a possibility. On the road, we had security so I never really feared for her safety, especially the way it happened to her. The fact that one of her friends did that, it’s just unbelievable.”
However, he has stated that he is glad he was able to give his perspective in his book and is glad to see the celebrations of her life. He said,
“[Her legacy] just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I think it’s an amazing thing and I’m proud to be attached to it in the way that I am… I’m proud of her. Proud of everything that she’s been able to accomplish.”
And about her presence as a symbol for the Mexican-American community, he said,
“I think it’s because of what she represents, which is strong morals, family, hard work ethic, you know, she was a good person all the way around, and we already know how talented she was. So, if that’s how people want to use her image or treat it, I mean, I think it’s a good thing.”
Perez remarried in 2001 and had two children, and divorced in 2008.
Abraham said in 2020,
“When Selena passed away, I told my family that I was going to try to keep her memory alive through her music. Twenty-five years later, I think we, as a family, accomplished that.”
Selena maintains a presence in the lives and memories of her fans. An inspiration for their music and fashion, a place of honor on many family’s ofrendas, a role-model for confidence, beauty, talent, and bright personality, and an example of a strong woman who broke barriers and brought her cultural background into the national spotlight to become not only the “Mexican Madonna” or the “Chicana Elvis”, but someone who made her own name one that will live on as not just one of the most well-known Latin or Tejano artists of all time, but one of the most beloved musical artists of all time. Selena.