We gave it a D
When Tejano singer Selena was shot to death by her fan-club president in the spring of 1995, she became the first tragic Latina heroine since the revolutionary artist Frida Kahlo. Her fans grieved not just for a great musical voice that had been silenced, but also for themselves: Selena’s success had been a tremendous source of pride to Mexican-Americans who had been despised, reviled, and openly disrespected (”No Dogs or Meskins”) for generations.
In Selena: Como La Flor, Texas music writer Joe Nick Patoski (coauthor of Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire) attempts to explain the singer’s sad, short story, set against both a cultural backdrop and a detailed explanation of the workings of the Latin music industry. What he ends up with is 270 pages of endless, repetitive facts, held together by the occasional sharp observation.
Yet because Patoski doesn’t know how to tell Selena’s story doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling. According to the book, Selena, the daughter of small-time rock musician Abraham Quintanilla Jr., was reared to carry on her father’s ambitions. A Catholic turned Jehovah’s Witness, Abraham was not so unlike his biblical namesake, ready to sacrifice his child (or at least her well-being) to satisfy a higher power — in this case, Fame. From the time she was small, Abraham pushed his daughter into becoming a singer when all she wanted was a normal life — marrying and having babies, maybe doing a little fashion design. Abraham would have none of it. He forced Selena to immerse herself in Latin culture (she grew up knowing no Spanish). And he laid down the rules of her romance and marriage to band member Chris Perez.
It was partly to assert her independence that Selena bonded with Yolanda Saldivar, a former ROTC member who kept a Selena shrine, replete with votive candles, in her home. Saldivar wormed her way from fan-club president to running Selena’s fashion boutiques and even helped the singer realize a dream: the development of a Selena perfume, which the singer hoped would be like her, ”strong and yet weak.” But when Selena learned Saldivar was allegedly embezzling funds, an argument ensued at a Days Inn in Corpus Christi, Tex. When it was over, the young star lay bleeding to death in the motel’s gloomy entrance.
Because Patoski wasn’t able to interview the family (they have their own book and movie deal), Selena isn’t so much a ghost in her own story as she is a cameo player. The day she died may have been ”a day of infamy even darker and more evil than the assassination of JFK” to the 5 million Texans of Mexican descent, but in this pallid telling, Selena is just another PEOPLE magazine death cover, fading fast.