Selena’s Life and Legacy in Corpus ChristiHistorians in the News
tags: Texas, popular culture, Latina/o history, Tejano music, Selena
Few people have left as indelible a mark on Texas—and the world—as musician Selena Quintanilla. Cynthia E. Orozco, a professor of history at Eastern New Mexico University, knows this intimately. Orozco has written about Selena for the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, and co-edited Mexican Americans In Texas History, which included an essay on Selena. In early December, more than 25 years after her murder in Corpus Christi at age 23, Netflix released the first half of a biographical series about the singer’s life, prompting mixed reviews and a call to reckon with the singer’s legacy. Orozco spoke with the Observer about Selena, her impact on her hometown of Corpus Christi, and Orozco’s own relationship with the music.
Can you tell me a little about your research on Selena?
Let me start off by saying that I am a native Texan, I am a Tejana, and I grew up with Tejano music. The day after Selena died I called the Texas State Historical Association. I had worked there from around 1989 to around ‘92, and I wrote 80 articles for the Handbook of Texas. Tejano history was my specialty, and women’s history as well.
When she died, and even shortly before that, she became a major star. It was a slow process. Of course the family had a long history with music, especially with Abraham Quintanilla, the father, with Los Dinos, his band from the late ‘50s through the ‘60s. And then of course the family band later as well. So they had a long, long history.
Her legacy grew from the small rural communities that she would play at, to the small dance halls that existed for decades and the urban Tejano night clubs. It grew from there to city festivals. And it grew to the point where it wasn’t just about the dancing—because originally it was more about the dancing—and it became more about spectacle. So she rose along with that change in Tejano music and Tejano dance. She was unusual because there were very few women that were stars in Tejano music. It’s less so now, but it was a very male-dominated genre, and it was hard for women to break in. There have been several other predecessors. The most important one was probably Laura Canales.
I would say that Selena’s expansion into Mexico also started to give her more of an international appeal, and then of course her music also appealed to anyone who understood Spanish, typically. And then there were songs like Bidi Bidi Bom Bom which really appealed to children and other people who might not have understood Spanish.
Her rise to stardom was slow, and it was difficult, but I think really her death sealed her superstardom more than anything. That’s what happens sometimes: People don’t truly see someone’s significance or how great or how important they are until death.
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