Honoring Selena Quintanilla on her 50th Birthday

We remember Selena’s lasting legacy 26 years after her death.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Referred to as the “Queen of Tejano music,” Selena Quintanilla made Tejano music, a genre from Texas which combined Mexican vocal traditions with Czech and German instrumentals, a popular genre worldwide. April 16 is now marked as National Selena Day in the United States, where her contributions to music and the Latin American community are officially recognized. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

By Sophia Carr, Staff Writer

April 16, 2021, would have been the 50th birthday of the Queen of Tejano Music, Selena Quintanilla. The date is now marked as National Selena Day in the United States, and the singer is officially recognized for her contributions to music and the Latin American community as a whole. 

Although she was murdered at the height of her fame in 1995, her legacy lives on. This year, the Grammys gave her a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award and “Selena: The Series,” a Netflix show about her life, will premiere its second season this month. Selena made Tejano music, a genre from Texas that combined Mexican vocal traditions with Czech and German instrumentals.

When I think of Selena, her 1992 single “Como La Flor” and her memorable performances of the track come to mind. Selena pauses after triumphantly belting out the chorus, flashing her warm smile to absorb the audience’s anticipation before continuing the song. You do not need to understand Spanish to feel the sadness of this song Selena’s vocals and the bass line convey the feeling of a lost love through the metaphor of a flower that dries up and dies. Even though it is a song about heartbreak that took on a new meaning after Selena’s death, you still can’t help but dance to its infectious beat. 

“I Could Fall in Love” is another song that comes to mind, the first single released following Selena’s death. It highlights the potential Selena had as a crossover artist who could sing in multiple genres and languages. Her versatility reminds us of what could have been. She was in the process of recording an English album before her untimely passing, a feat which Selena had long since aspired to achieve since signing with a major label. It is impossible not to feel sad when hearing the sensual piano and Spanish guitar-adorned intro as Selena’s soprano voice sings of not being able to keep herself from falling in love. We see elements of Selena’s pop contemporaries, such as Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, and why she should have enjoyed equally as much success and recognition for her vocal talents while she was alive.

Although Selena’s posthumous English releases display her potential as a crossover artist, her penultimate album is her fourth, “Amor Prohibido.” The Grammy-nominated album was released in 1994, and is still recognized as one of the most essential albums created by a female artist. It also remains the most successful Tejano album of all time. The album’s title track, a Tejano cumbia song, mixes pop and dance elements to tell the story of a forbidden love across differing social classes. The song’s chorus is its most distinctive part, drawing in the listener and displaying the range of Selena’s vocal talent. 

The album’s second single “Biddi Biddi Bom Bom,” is a Selena staple. The title is an onomatopoeic description of the sound of one’s heart when falling in love. It is playful and lighthearted, highlighting the excitement and happiness in it that comes with the early stages of a relationship. It suits Selena’s spirited nature perfectly. 

The album’s third single, “No Me Queda Más,” is a mariachi pop ballad about mourning the end of a relationship, while “Fotos Y Recuerdos,” the album’s fourth single, uses elements of dance pop and house music to describe someone who kisses the photo of the person they love every night before bed. Each element of these songs exemplifies Selena’s universality. Even though she transcends multiple genres, she never sacrifices her authenticity.  

I hope Selena will continue to be honored not only for her musical achievements, but also for the way she influenced fashion with her own handmade stage outfits. Her outfits embraced both her Mexican heritage and Texas roots. The compassionate, charismatic personality that shone through her music, interviews and charity work are symbols of the legacy we remember. She will always be a role model for Latin American girls everywhere.

Selena remains one of the most influential Mexican American artists of all time. She showed the world that a young Latina could stand alongside prominent artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. I believe that she will continue to be an inspiring, iconic figure within pop culture and for women everywhere, especially in the Latine community. 

Contact Sophia Carr at [email protected]