If you’re from Texas, you know exactly where you were and what you were doing when Selena passed away on March 31, 1995. I was working at a friend’s graduation company in my hometown of San Antonio when the director of the office broke the news. Selena was gunned down at the Days Inn Motel in Corpus Christi after arguing with Yolanda Saldivar, the president of the singer’s fan club who helped run her shops. My best friend and I hopped in her purple Ford Ranger and drove to Selena Boutique & Salon, a store she had opened in San Antonio a year before. By the time we arrived a small crowd had gathered in the parking lot where they were singing his songs and mourning his loss. My best friend and I didn’t own any of her CDs, so it was intrusive. Instead, we paid our respects and carried on.
I might not have been a super fan before she died, but growing up in South Texas you couldn’t help but know who she was. There was the store, of course, and her band Selena y Los Dinos performed frequently throughout the state, and her music was often aired on local Top-40 radio. But it was after his death that his star really started to rise.
A year had passed when word started to spread that Hollywood was making a movie about Selena. It was long before social media, so finding something like that meant reading about it in the paper, or hearing about it on the radio or on the local news. Rumors became fact when it was officially announced that parts of the film would be shot in San Antonio. It was a big deal for what was considered at the time to be a sleepy town a few hours north of the border. There was a call for extras to come to the Alamodome, the city’s football-sized arena, where the film planned to recreate Selena’s famous performance in Houston where she danced in her purple sequin outfit. in front of more than 66,000 people. The city was in turmoil. Throughout the fall of 1996, people talked about spotting film crews and seeing scenes. In 1997, a week before the second anniversary of his death, the film was released. I have no idea how it played out across the country, but in San Antonio it was an event. The audience cheered her on, sang along with her and cried for her once more.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I realize now that I was elated when I saw the movie because it was the first time I saw someone on screen who looked like me and acted like me. Obviously, I don’t look like JLo and I’m not a Grammy-winning singer, but for the first time there was a curvy woman with dark hair and cinnamon-tinted skin – and she was the one. star! She was a hard worker and rewarded for it, and finally on the big screen I saw someone I could aspire to. “Representation Matters” has since become a hashtag, but the meaning behind it is real, substantial and impactful. It’s fascinating how it works.