Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of Selena’s death, and Peralta, now 26, remains a fan and even maintains a tribute YouTube channel where she demonstrates how to re-create some of Selena’s most iconic stage outfits. Selena started singing when she was about 10 with her family’s band, Selena Y Los Dinos, playing weddings and clubs. She continues to draw a fanatical fan base, especially among Latinos like Peralta who continue to see the Tejano superstar as one of the few examples of representation in U.S. pop culture.
“I felt that she was very easy for me to connect to because growing up, she was one of the only people that I could really see myself in,” said Peralta, who lives in Paramount, Calif. “ … She was a young Mexican American Latina who was also struggling with Spanish and just trying to be successful in life.”
While Selena Quintanilla drew a large Latinx fan base before her death at age 23, she didn’t enter the mainstream pop music until her 1994 Grammy win for her album “Live.” Her murder in 1995 by the manager of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar, came just as she was poised to cross over to the English-speaking market. Saldívar is currently serving a life sentence. Selena’s last album, “Dreaming of You,” topped the Billboard 200 in 1995. The 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez catapulted Selena into fame posthumously. In the subsequent years, the Latinx community hasn’t forgotten her. Instead, they’ve passed on her music and their fandom like a family heirloom.
So what is it about Selena that she has left behind such a lasting legacy?
Roger Gomez of Santa Ana, Calif., became a fan when he was 16, after being moved by news coverage of her death. He created a chat group to speak with other fans, which turned into a website, LoveSelena.com and eventually fan pages on Facebook and Instagram.
Gomez, now 41, said he sees Selena’s fan base growing “every single day.”
“Now that we’re getting to the age where we have kids and are starting to have grandkids, we’re passing on to that generation the love of her music and everything that we’ve known about Selena throughout the years,” Gomez said.
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Selena remains prominent decades after her death partly because the music industry has not seen a star quite like her since. Deborah Paredez, a professor of ethnic studies and creative writing at Columbia University, explored the artist’s impact in her book, “Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory.”
“In many ways, Latinos, even though we’re hyper visible, we’re also deeply underrepresented in mainstream culture,” Paredez said. “There hasn’t been another Selena. In some ways there could never be. But I think people are yearning for that kind of more robust representation.”
Selena, born near the U.S.-Mexico border, embodied the Latina girl next door. She drew from both her father’s traditional Tejano musical style and pop music to create her own distinct sound. Also like many Latinos born in the United States, Selena spoke English as her dominant language, which was clear in interviews with Spanish-language media, in which she sometimes stumbled to find the right words.
“Owning her kind of Spanglish-speaking ways was something that was very affirming for so many of her generation,” Paredez said.
Selena’s sense of style also rang true for Latinas. In the ’90s, when the norm was for pop stars to have rail-thin figures, Selena wore outfits — like her purple bodysuit and rhinestone-studded bustier — that accentuated rather than played down her curves.
“So at the time, it really seemed to be a kind of authentic and bold assertion of brown sexuality and sense of fashion style that wasn’t always commonly asserted, certainly in larger American popular culture,” Paredez said.
Selena “died before she had to dye her hair,” she quips. By comparison, when Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira entered the U.S. market in the early 2000s, her hair got noticeably blonder. So has Jennifer Lopez’s hair over the years. Selena died before she felt forced to tone down her ethnicity to appeal to a white audience.
“I think that there is a way that her tragic death at such a young age, before she was forced to make a recording industry concessions around her looks or her sound, forever preserved her authenticity,” Paredez said.
For Peralta, Selena’s style is something that reminds her of herself.
“She was a brown girl that had black, long hair, and her characteristics were different from many of the Latinas that we still see in the media today,” Peralta said. “A lot of them are light skinned, blonde hair.”
Selena’s sense of style is still duplicated by fans to this day. Peralta’s is one of hundreds of YouTube channels that promise tutorials on some of her signature looks.
“What a lot of the fans appreciate about my channel is that I try to do the most research that I can when it comes to her outfits,” Peralta said. “I’ve gone as far as using the same brand that Selena would use for her bustiers.”
In dressing like Selena, fans get the chance to feel closer to her and have pride in how they look. Roger Gomez, the creator of LoveSelena.com, said that dressing up like Selena is a major part of the fandom. As part of his website, he holds fan meetups called the “Selena Fan Gathering” that draw hundreds of Selena look-alikes, young and old.
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Teach the children. About Selena 🌹 #teachthechildrenaboutselena 🙏🏼 sooo special to meet everyone at @loveselenaofficial #selenafangathering yesterday! 😭😭 #notoverit. The love la reina gets in LA is incredible and I'm blessed to witness it irl!! 💓 #selenaquintanillaperez #selenaquintanilla 📷 @angita.floresita #selenaseason
“The fans love representing her and showing their love for her in that way,” Gomez said.
Her hoop earrings, her red lipstick, all were little touches that helped her connect to her community. Her family maintains the Selena Museum in her honor, where they display old costumes and memorabilia. In 2016, a fan’s online petition signed by over 37,000 people drove M.A.C. to develop a makeup line inspired by Selena. It sold out in minutes, prompting the company to release a follow-up to the line next month. Last year, Netflix announced it will release a series based on Selena’s life set to come out later this year. Fans hope it will show Selena’s younger years, which the movie didn’t address in depth.
Maybe it will help answer some lingering questions about Selena’s life. For fans who love a star whose life was cut short, it’s hard not to have questions about what could have been.
“What else could she have accomplished? How many more Grammys could she have won? What level could she have been at now?” Gomez said. “I think that that’s one of the things that’s always going to be in the back of our heads as Selena fans.”