When people become legends they drift further away from being real people and become ideas. Ideas that are then sold and made marketable, they become posters and t-shirts and hyped-up make-up collections. But at the core, there is some message that they seem to encapsulate that resonates in different ways for different people. That ability to morph that essence to fit and resonate with different people is what makes someone a legend. In over 20 years, the power of Selena Quintanilla-Perez has grown and surpassed beyond the tangible achievements she was able to reach in her 23 years.
I was 10 when I saw the movie Selena, I remember watching her story…an American Latina figuring out how to succeed in this in-between world where you’re seen as too Latino for Americans and too American for Latinos. It’s a struggle that remains over 20 years later. You feel this responsibility to represent your Latino culture when you’re American. I make it a point to speak the language, eat the food and listen to the music. But my Americanness is something I carry with me, and it follows and lingers.
As it should, I’m proud of being American. But being born here is a privilege, and I know that but when encountering people who were born in Latin America, your born-right citizenship becomes this ding against your credibility. Your Spanglish becomes further evidence of everything you’re not. Selena represented all this. This was summed up seamlessly in her movie with the scene where Selena is being interviewed and she’s at a loss to explain how she feels in Spanish, so she says, “Me siento muy excited.” She was the first person I can remember representing this for me. Representing this in-between state where you unapologetically throw in English words when the Spanish words won’t come to you and sub in Spanish slang when English just won’t do.
These ideas that Selena so effortless represented were needed when I was 10 and are still needed now – 20 years later. She was a powerful and beautiful mujer who represents so many things.
So here’s to her and to hoping she keeps inspiring us to embrace the in-between.