You have to wonder what Selena — or Elvis — would have thought of the vigil outside Craig’s Record Factory on the south side of Corpus Christi, Tex., the night her album Dreaming of You was released. Assembled in the shopping-center parking lot, teenage girls, dressed and made-up in the style of the slain Tejano music queen, were prancing and lip-synching to her beach-blanket anthem ”Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” their heroine’s 1994 novelty hit. In all, some 4,000 Selena fans had jammed into a roped area meant for 1,500 as searchlights swept the sky. A few wept, but most were there to party. Selena had called Corpus Christi home, and they roared as one at every mention of her name; they groaned and held their ground when the pushing escalated to mosh-pit levels. They devoured the free food dispensed by the record store’s clerks around the edge of the crowd, and whooped encouragement to the 75 strutting, Selena-swiveling lip-synch contestants, who ranged from toddlers to twentysomethings.
Then, at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 18, the doors of Craig’s flung open, and a well-mannered group began snapping up Selena’s musical last will and testament. Thirty-year-old Alice Doria, a housewife from nearby Odem, became the first to buy Selena’s posthumous album, Dreaming of You, originally slated to contain all English-language songs and transform the Tejano superstar into a household name. ”I bought a cassette and a CD,” said Doria, who had been in line since 12:30 that afternoon with her 10-year-old daughter, two nieces, and a neighbor. ”I’m gonna put one away and play one till it wears out. Then I’m gonna buy another.”
Gunned down March 31, allegedly by her fan-club president and boutique manager, Yolanda Saldivar, 34, in a dispute over missing funds, 23-year-old Selena Quintanilla-Perez was an American-born woman who sang in Spanish and had dreams of topping the charts like Madonna. Four months after her death, she did just that. Dreaming of You — an agreeable hodgepodge of confectionary pop that includes the four English songs she had completed before her demise, a previously recorded track, two bilingual cuts (one with David Byrne), a pair of mariachis from the movie Don Juan DeMarco (in which she’d had a cameo), and some remixed Spanish-language hits — sold 175,000 copies its first day, and 331,000 its first week. Although it slipped from the top spot a week later, the album is still on Billboard‘s top five. Skeptics attributed the prodigious sales to morbid curiosity, but clearly Selena’s music is suddenly speaking to people who’d never heard the word Tejano just a short time ago.
In a dozen interviews, including one with Good Morning America, her family — father and manager Abraham Quintanilla Jr., 55, mother Marcella, 50, brother A.B. III (songwriter, producer, and bassist for Selena’s band Los Dinos), 31, and sister Suzette Arriaga (Dinos’ drummer), 27 — kept repeating the word bittersweet to describe the album’s triumph Again and again, her father defended the speedy release of the record to those who suggested it was exploitative. ”The mainstream market was her dream, a goal,” says Abraham, almost by rote. ”This is what she would have wanted. So I don’t want to deny my daughter, even though she’s dead, that dream that she had.”
Selena’s crossover dream wasn’t hers alone. Though nearly all Tejano artists — who fuse Mexican, pop, polka, and country sounds — are born in the U.S. and speak fluent English, they sing in Spanish to affirm their common bond, and to embrace both ancient Mexican roots and a modern American outlook. Selena’s rock-solid family life and devotion to God (like her father, she embraced the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses without joining their church) made her a role model and more: In Corpus Christi, a Gulf of Mexico city of about 271,000, 52 percent of whom are Hispanic, Selena was family.