While Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla-Pérez has been gone for more than two decades now, she is rarely ever far from memory. From a critically acclaimed podcast, to a best-selling beauty line, to an original Netflix series that’s just debuted its second season, Selena is everywhere. It’s obviously to the joy of die-hard fans like me, who’ve exhausted every music video and interview on YouTube and listened to every hit on a loop (not that that’s at all a bad thing). It’s just all to say that cross multiple platforms and products, it’s an undeniable fact: Selena lives.
Deborah Paredez, a poet and professor of creative writing and ethnic studies at Columbia University, wrote this past April for NPR that she started noticing an uptick in Selena-related everything about five years ago. That would coincide with MAC Cosmetics’ Selena-inspired makeup line, which beauty blog Bydie said might be the best-selling makeup line of all time. “When the dreamy ‘90’s-inspired vault collection was released and briefly re-released, it sold-out in minutes, and individual pieces were subsequently selling for upwards of $300 on auction and secondary market sites.”
I knew I had to go see this line when it debuted, but I’ve generally avoided going to Macy’s in San Francisco’s Union Square since I stopped working there after graduating from college in 2004. Just too many shitty memories of working the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas or, thanks to my store’s magical ability to hire the worst managers on the face of the planet, finding myself to be the only sales associate on the entire floor.
Sometimes I’d to sneak into a stockroom to breathe for a minute. Not 10 minutes (that counted as a break), not five minutes, but just one fucking minute. I remember that one time I did that, a customer must’ve been watching me like some owl/”let me speak to your manager” mythological hybrid, because the next thing I knew they were actually pounding on the door with their fist. Actually pounding on the door! I’m sure I cried.
But anyway, when I heard that MAC Cosmetics would be carrying a Selena line, and that it would be at the Union Square store, like the cholo in the biopic starring Jennifer Lopez says, anything for Salinas. It did help that the store’s makeup department was in a different building across the street from the one I had worked in. It helped wall off my trauma. I never actually bought anything when I found the MAC counter. I don’t know how I’d look in the Bidi Bidi Bom Bom lipgloss. But I remember just wanting to look at the display with her backlit image emblazoned to the left, and thinking it was fucking amazing.
Things would get even more fucking amazing the very next year, when Selena was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right smack in front of the iconic Capitol Records building. In terms of pop culture, few other things rival that star. Selena’s family and Los Dinos bandmates were all there for the unveiling, and when her husband Chris Perez placed her trademark roses on the star, friends, I lost it. I was a mess. I was hundreds of miles away but refused to miss out on the event, watching the video stream and tweeting screenshots like it was my job. But in our heads, aren’t we all Selena ambassadors?
When I made it to L.A. the next year to visit some good friends, I said I was up for any sightseeing they’d recommend—but a visit to Selena’s star was an absolute must. I didn’t know at the time that her star would be right in front of the Capitol Records building. Walking up to it, and seeing it there in person, was surreal. I mean, Selena is a legend. We know she’s made it. But to see her name there, on a star on the Walk of Fame, it felt like just a whole different level of superstar. I got my picture with it, because of course.
How much more could the Selena-verse have expanded after that? The answer is, a lot more. The news that Netflix would be developing a Selena series was both exciting, and curious. Exciting, because it was a television show about her life! I can only watch the same seasons of America’s Next Top Model so many times. Curious, because you wondered what more this show had to tell. I mean, so many of us know the movie to the point that rarely are medium pizzas with lots of pepperoni consumed by oneself without first thinking of the superstar.
When Selena: The Series starring Christian Serratos in the lead role did debut last December, it was to mixed reviews, though I think it had its moments. Much like when the Selena movie opened with the singer’s unmistakable silhouette, Selena: The Series opens with a close-up of Serratos’ hands gently clasped together. The camera then moves up to show the lower half of Serratos’ face and hooped earrings, lips painted Selena’s trademark red. It’s a quiet, humanizing moment. I think sometimes in my fandom, I forget that Selena was also just a person.
Some viewers and fans felt that the first season of the series focused a lot—maybe way too much—on Selena’s father, Abraham. “While the late “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” singer is meant to be the star, she’s treated as more of a side character, or even as an employee of her dad’s band, which he formed to chase his own dream of being a successful musician,” Rolling Stone reported. Still, “the show rose to the number one spot on the streaming service that month and remained there for weeks in Latin America,” Texas Monthly reports.
But the gem of this slew of Selenaism has been the nine-episode Anything for Selena podcast, created and hosted by Maria Garcia and produced by WBUR and Futuro Studios. Deeply-nuanced and well-researched, Garcia does so much more than just retell the singer’s story: She’s also found a way to reinvigorate it. While I nodded along to her narration throughout the series, I also found myself surprised—and even shocked—at things I’d never heard before.
While I was a just a kid when Selena was killed, I still remember the anger over the vile comments made by radio show host Howard Stern following her death, where he mocked the fans and played the sound of gunshots over her music. Truly awful, shitty stuff. But what I thought I remembered from my youth didn’t compare to the audio played during the podcast. It was so shocking that I stopped dead in my tracks as I listened during one of my walks.
“It was startling to hear the rhetoric now,” Maira Garcia, digital news editor for the cultural department at The New York Times, told Garcia in an interview. “A lot of people listen to that archive tape and feel distressed,” she responded. “I say this in the episode—this is his thing. But I really wanted to focus an episode on that because that is the moment in the Selena journey that it became clear to me how political [her death] was. To make fun of the people who mourned her was to dismiss the life of Latinos.”
“When I heard this tape, all I could think about were the women in Juarez who have been murdered over generations and nobody cared,” she continued, referencing the hundreds of girls and women who have been killed or vanished in the border city since 1993. “And it feels like to this day, nobody cares. So many of them looked like Selena. These are women who were poor and brown like Selena had been. But Selena was afforded a different path because she was born on this side of the border.”
Garcia throughout the podcast further weaves in her own lived experiences as a first-generation immigrant, turning it into, as she says at the beginning of each episode, “a podcast about belonging.” She also brings in guests like former Housing and Urban Development secretary and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, telling CultureMap San Antonio that she “wanted to situate it in today. I didn’t want to make a podcast that was just looking back. I wanted to make a podcast that was helping us make meaning of our culture today, of the moment today, of our lives today with the insight of the last quarter-century since her death.” I’d say she achieved that—and so much more.
This Selena renaissance has also expanded out into what some might say are more ordinary products, but for a superfan are no less significant. In 2018, Texas supermarket chain H-E-B announced a limited edition Selena shopping bag. They weren’t anything fancy, just $2 and made of a reusable material. But I knew I needed to have one. I live in California, so going to an H.E.B. to get one was out of the question. But they were available to buy online, so that was my ticket to getting one of my own. But by the time I tried to order one, they were gone.
I was sad, and felt dumb for feeling sad. It’s just a $2 bag. Why are you feeling sad over a $2 bag, Gabriel? I even used my full first name on myself, and very few people call me by my first name, to convey the seriousness of how ridiculous I was being. You have like three Trader Joe’s bags already. You never use those. Those are the ones you should be using. I mean, you always ask for a double-bag so that your $2.99 wine doesn’t fall out the bottom and ruin your Friday night. Be sad over that!
I ended up mentioning to a very close friend in Texas how I’d missed the sale, and that the website didn’t say how soon the bags would be available again. That friend then surprised me with, drumroll, the Selena bag that had eluded me. Of course, I’ve never used it. Instead it hangs in my beautifully organized closet, as more decoration than bag. That people know what Selena means to me is a gift, and that reusable $2 bag that arrived for me in the mail as a surprise was a manifestation of it.
In her wonderful NPR piece, Paredez wrote that the longevity and straight-up tenacity of Selena’s enduring cultural impact surprised even her. In this way, Selena lives, even if she’s not here anymore. “Twelve years ago, I wrote a book about Selena’s enduring legacy called Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory,” Paredez wrote. “In the process, I discovered how Selena—and Latinos—were transformed by what I came to call Selenidad, the vibrant and dynamic afterlife of this tremendously talented and charismatic performer who was murdered in 1995. In the years since, Selena’s legacy has become even more profound than even I could have anticipated.”