This post was originally published in 2015, 20 years after Selena's death. The text below has been updated for 2020.
Selena Quintanilla, the Queen of Tejano, was murdered 25 years ago. For fans, the anniversary is bittersweet; marked by tragedy, the day is spent mourning through celebrating everything Selena was and still means to us.
Pop culture moves at breakneck speed, yet two decades later, Selena's impact is still deeply felt. Just visit any karaoke bar and chances are someone will sing "Dreaming of You" or "Amor Prohibido." (Pandora, a karaoke bar in the Tenderloin, even has Selena's likeness spray-painted on one of its walls.) What is it about this singer that has inspired so many for so long?
I can only speak for myself. I grew up as a first-generation kid stuck in an all-white Catholic school. When I first discovered Selena, I became obsessed with her joie de vivre and her dedication to being exactly who she was. She was proud of her heritage, a feeling I hadn’t come to yet. She was also an American. These two influences were not opposing forces, but a new reality. For me, Selena was a role model in how to exist between two disparate worlds and not feel the need to pick one over the other. She taught me to stop apologizing for or hiding my difference and revel in it instead.
Listening to her music, I often get sad, imagining all the could-have-beens. But eventually my focus switches from what didn't happen to what did. I become overwhelmed with gratitude that she was here at all and that she has so much to show for it: not just in the music she left behind, but in the way she made people who weren't used to being represented feel seen, the way she redefined the word "mainstream" to encompass Latino culture, the way she opened minds and hearts, the way she still does, the way she projected fearless joy, the way we keep feeling it.