Selena Quintanilla was born to a Mexican-American family in Texas in 1971 and rose to prominence as a Latin recording artist in the 1980s. Quintanilla’s talent and her performance style earned her the nicknames “Queen of Tejano Music” and “The Mexican Madonna.”
The award-winning artist seemed to have everything going for her. She had a supportive family, a loving husband, a Grammy, and even a fashion boutique. Quintanilla was poised to continue her already successful career, but her life was cut tragically short in 1995 when she was murdered by her friend and founder of Quintanilla’s fan club, Yolanda Saldívar. Quintanilla was just 23 years old.
The world was shocked and devastated at the loss of such an icon, especially considering she died at the peak of her fame, but her legacy continues today. Fans remain mesmerized by Quintanilla — and for good reason. Quintanilla was more than a singer. She was a role model, especially for the Latinx community. Here is the untold truth of Selena Quintanilla.
Selena Quintanilla learned Spanish for the sake of her music career
While Selena Quintanilla grew up in a Mexican-American family and became popular primarily through singing music in Spanish, she didn’t speak the language growing up. Instead, english was her first language. As it happens, she actually learned to sing in Spanish long before she learned to speak the language fluently. Quintanilla was determined to master it, though, and eventually began to give interviews in Spanish, as noted by CNN.
Quintanilla’s husband Chris Perez revealed in his memoir, To Selena, With Love (via CNN’s In America) that Quintanilla “rose to the challenge, as she always did” in order to learn her ancestral tongue. According to Perez, she wanted to be truly accepted by her Mexican fans, and was afraid they “might dismiss her” if her Spanish wasn’t perfect. In the beginning, she “mangled her conversations in Spanish … but not for long,” Perez wrote. “She said, ‘It’ll be cool. You watch. I’m going to learn Spanish and surprise everybody.'”
Selena Quintanilla got her start in a family band
While people all over the world are familiar with the name Selena Quintanilla — pop star Selena Gomez is even named after her — Quintanilla was not an overnight success. Years of hard work went into building her career. She was born into a musical family, as noted by Newsweek. Her father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. had been in a band before quitting to support his family with a job at Dow Chemical. When he heard his daughter sing for the first time as a little girl, he recognized her talent and became determined to nurture her skill.
The patriarch decided to start a family band, declaring that Quintanilla’s brother, A.B., would learn bass, and her sister, Suzette, would learn drums. Their band was called Selena y Los Dinos after Abraham’s old band, Los Dinos. Abraham soundproofed the garage to give the band a place to record and rehearse.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, the band’s early gigs were at the family’s restaurant and weddings. In 1981, the band went pro, and they began playing in dance halls and nightclubs the next year.
Selena Quintanilla dropped out of school to sing
While Selena Quintanilla loved to sing, her talent prevented her from having anything resembling a normal childhood. Since she started performing while still a child, she missed a lot of school. As noted by María Celeste Arrarás in Selena’s Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death, Quintanilla’s seventh grade teacher, Marilyn Greer, went head-to-head with the singer’s father over Quintanilla’s singing career.
Greer said that Quintanilla was a bright student who she could see finishing school with honors and going on to college with a scholarship. She was worried, however, at how performing in Selena y Los Dinos was impacting her academics, as she frequently traveled across the state singing at parties, bars, and other venues late into the night.
Greer said she went so far as to threaten to report Quintanilla’s father to the authorities. At her father’s request, she dropped out of school so she could focus on her music career without any objections. Quintanilla later ended up completing her education via a correspondence course.
Selena Quintanilla eloped because her father didn't approve of her relationship
When Selena Quintanilla died, she left behind not just her parents, siblings, and devoted fans, but also her husband, Chris Perez. Perez and Quintanilla had only been married for a few years at the time of her death. They met when he joined Selena y Los Dinos as a guitarist, and they quickly fell in love. While they were serious about each other, Quintanilla’s father did not approve of the relationship. In an interview with CNN, Perez said things were “tense” with his then-girlfriend’s dad.
He further revealed that he “didn’t let it get to me because I knew deep down he knew the kind of person I was.” He added that, while Quintanilla’s father didn’t approve of their relationship, the rest of the family was on board with their romance.
To avoid further confrontation, Quintanilla and Perez eloped in 1992 when they were 20 and 22 years old, respectively. Perez posted a picture of their marriage certificate on Facebook in 2017 on what would have been their 25th wedding anniversary. “What a rollercoaster ride THAT day was,” he wrote of their wedding day.
Selena Quintanilla was an animal lover
Selena Quintanilla had a generous heart that also extended to animals. The singer loved animals and had five dogs, as noted by Legacy. She reportedly once hit a rabbit with her car and, instead of abandoning it, paid $300 to save its life.
In To Selena, With Love, her husband, Chris Perez, said that the couple bonded over their love for animals and considered their pets their “practice family.” As soon as they had their own house, they began filling it with pets. The headboard of their bed was also a large aquarium that the couple filled with saltwater fish. Once they had the aquarium filled (and filled another aquarium with fish), the couple started on their “collection” of dogs. After that came a python.
Perez said that Quintanilla’s love of animals was a constant in her life. Even as a little girl growing up in Texas, she surrounded herself with animals, and had a pet chicken and piglets.
Selena Quintanilla's brother wrote some of her most iconic songs
While Selena Quintanilla became the most famous member of the family band, it’s her brother, A.B. Quintanilla, who deserves much of the credit for some of her most beloved songs. The hit “Como El Flor” was written by A.B., who revealed to BuzzFeed News that the song only took him 20 minutes to write. A.B. also wrote “Amor Prohibido”, a song about a forbidden love story which was based on his grandparents’ relationship.
One of Quintanilla’s most popular hits, though, didn’t stem from songwriting. Instead, Quintanilla improvised “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” because the band was running short on time during a set. Since not performing for the whole time meant their pay could be docked, A.B. told the band to start playing a bass line, and Quintanilla began to improvise lyrics. “It used to be called ‘Bidi Bidi Bubbles,'” said A.B. “She would say she was a fish under the sea and all kinds of jibber jabber.” The song continued to evolve until it became one of Quintanilla’s biggest hits.
Selena Quintanilla was the first female Tejano Grammy winner
While it seems almost like Selena Quintanilla’s phenomenal success was predestined, establishing herself as a Latin recording artist was no easy task. Even though she had a beautiful voice and a flair for performing, the industry at that time was dominated by male artists. Yet, Quintanilla’s success completely subverted the genre. She didn’t just defy the patriarchal hold on the industry — she smashed it. In 1994, she made history by becoming the first Tejano woman to win a Grammy award for best Mexican-American album for her album Live.
The album also made it to number two on Billboard‘s Latin Albums chart. More prominent awards should have followed for the singer, but she died the following year. In 1995, her album Dreaming Of You was released posthumously, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200. This was another history-making event as it was the first predominantly Spanish language album to make it to the top of the chart.
The woman who shot Selena Quintanilla claimed it was an accident
On March 31, 1995, Yolanda Saldívar shot and killed Selena Quintanilla. Saldívar, in addition to being the founder of Quintanilla’s fan club, managed Quintanilla’s Selena Etc. boutiques, as noted by Biography. Quintanilla began to grow suspicious of Saldívar after members of her fan club complained about not receiving merchandise they had paid for. Selena Etc. employees also reported that they suspected Saldívar of stealing money. After Quintanilla discovered some financial records were missing, she confronted Saldívar.
According to Biography, the singer met with Saldívar to get the missing records on the day she was killed. Quintanilla was shot in a Days Inn, where Saldívar had a room. Injured, Quintanilla made her way to the lobby and told hotel employees what transpired before collapsing. She was brought to the hospital, but the bullet had severed an artery and Quintanilla could not be saved.
Saldívar maintained that the shooting was an accident, but she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison that October. However, Saldívar may be eligible for parole in 2025. Mourners turned out in droves to honor Quintanilla, with more than 50,000 fans showing up at her funeral.
Selena Quintanilla was down to earth
At the time of her death, Selena Quintanilla was a huge star, but she never lost sight of her roots. Her sister, Suzette Quintanilla, told PopSugar the singer was down to earth and genuine, adding that it’s part of what made her so popular with her many fans.
Quintanilla wasn’t a diva — she was just a young woman with an extraordinary talent who enjoyed sharing that talent with others. “She kept it real, on and offstage,” Suzette continued. “She was not a different person. When she spoke to you she made you feel like she knew you.”
Suzette added that her sister could “captivate” people, which is why her music and her story still resonate with so many today. “They feel like they can identify with her,” said Suzette. Quintanilla’s relatability has helped ensure her continued legacy in the decades since her death.
Jennifer Lopez played Selena Quintanilla in an unforgettable biopic
Many people of the younger generation receive their first introduction to Selena Quintanilla through the 1997 biopic Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez in the titular role. Not only was Selena a fitting tribute to an icon lost too soon, but the film would also prove to be Lopez’s breakthrough role. Lopez earned a whopping $1 million for the role, according to Variety, and made history in the process; she was the first Latina actress to earn that much money for a movie.
Lopez was nominated for a Golden Globe for the part. The role was a significant one for Lopez, not just because of the acclaim it brought her, but because she was honored to tell Quintanilla’s story. “It was a Latin movie, starring a Latin girl, playing a Latin artist and a Latin director [Gregory Nava],” she told Variety. She continued, “It was a statement to the world.”
While Lopez and others involved in the film were disappointed that it was snubbed by the Academy Awards, Lopez said that ultimately it didn’t matter because she felt the film “made the impact it needed to make.”
MAC released a makeup line inspired by Selena Quintanilla in 2016
In 2016, MAC released a makeup line named after Selena Quintanilla. The line came about in large part because of the number of people who, even decades after the singer’s death, were trying to emulate her beauty. Radio producer Patty Rodriguez pitched the collection after MAC launched a collection inspired by Marilyn Monroe. “She’s an American icon,” Rodriguez told USA Today about Quintanilla.
Rodriguez campaigned for the line for two years, even launching an online petition to convince MAC to launch the collection. The petition amassed nearly 40,000 signatures by the time MAC agreed to the line.
Quintanilla would have approved of the collection. Her sister, Suzette Quintanilla, told PopSugar that the fashionista had always wanted her own makeup line, and that she’d actually been working on one when she died. Quintanilla’s family worked with MAC to make sure the line honored the singer’s memory. Suzette even sent pictures of her sister’s makeup to MAC so they could replicate the shades she wore. “I think since it’s for Selena, it needs to be about Selena,” said Suzette.
Selena Quintanilla's Hollywood star was unveiled in 2017
Even though Selena Quintanilla died decades ago, her legacy will endure forever. In 2017, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Walk of Fame website reported that a record number of fans — 4,500 — came to see the star unveiled.
According to Billboard, several celebrities turned up at the event to commemorate the singer alongside Quintanilla’s family and fans. Actress Eva Longoria spoke of Quintanilla’s inspiration to others in the Latinx community, saying “she was the face I finally saw that looked like mine.” Also in attendance at the ceremony was actor Edward James Olmos, who appeared in the film Selena. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, was also present at the ceremony and dubbed Quintanilla an “angel.”
The star was accepted on Quintanilla’s behalf by her sister, Suzette. She quoted Quintanilla when accepting the award, saying, “The goal isn’t to live forever, but to create something that will.”
Selena Quintanilla's family is producing a Netflix series about her life
Selena Quintanilla won’t be forgotten any time soon thanks, in part, to a new Netflix show ensuring her ongoing legacy. The biopic series is set to air in 2020 and is being executive produced by her father and her sister, reported Al Día.
The search for someone to play Quintanilla was conducted in several cities, with the role eventually going to Christian Serratos. Quintanilla’s father told Mexican newspaper Reforma (via Hola!) that, while his family did not get very involved with the casting process, he approved of Serratos playing his daughter. In a trailer for the series, Serratos bears a striking resemblance to the late singer.
According to Elle, the first installment of Selena: The Series will consist of six, one-hour episodes that tell the story of Quintanilla’s rise to success and the impact her career has on her and her family. Also joining the cast are Gabriel Chavarria, Ricardo Chavira, Seidy Lopez, and Noemi Gonzalez.
Selena Quintanilla wanted to be remembered as a role model
Selena Quintanilla couldn’t have known that she would soon be dead when she gave what would be her last interview, but that makes her words no less eerie. In the interview, the star was asked how she’d want to be remembered after her death. “Not only as an entertainer but as a person who cared a lot and I gave the best that I could,” said Quintanilla (via Latina). “I tried to be the best role model that I possibly could, and the best person that I could, and I tried to help out.”
Quintanilla’s wish to be remembered positively was granted. Today she is commemorated as a role model and inspiration, and her music and style are still captivating fans. Quintanilla is also an inspiration because she came to prominence in a time of hostility towards immigrants, in which Latinos often faced hostility.
José Limón, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, discussed Quintanilla’s continued impact with NBC News, saying that Quintanilla is an icon because she “represents the possibility of being a complete American, of having success, fame, [and] being in the public realm” all while still staying in touch with her heritage.
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