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25 Years Later – Selena: The Series

By Marisol Marquez

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Los Angeles, CA – On March 31, 1995, 23-year-old Chicana icon Selena Quintanilla was murdered by her employee Yolanda Saldivar. 25 years later, on December 4, 2020, Selena: The Series premiered on Netflix. Selena is indisputably one of the most important and influential Chicanas in the past 100 years. Executive producer for the series was eldest Quintanilla daughter Suzette; it was co-produced by Chicana Christian Serratos, who stars as Selena in the series.

A father’s dream

Selena’s parents Marcella and Abraham Quintanilla met around 1961 in Yakima, Washington and, after giving birth to their first child AB Quintanilla, moved to Lake Jackson, Texas. The series portrays the heavy-handed role of Abraham Quintanilla and his own aspirations of leading a life dedicated to music. Beginning with teaching son AB how to play guitar, and after hearing Selena sing (at the age of eight), Quintanilla would also teach his daughter Suzette how to play drums. They would start a band named Southern Pearl and would play inside of the Quintanilla restaurant PapaGayo’s.

After the U.S. economic depression of 1983, the Quintanilla’s lost their restaurant. Forced to move, they took refuge at one of Quintanilla’s brother’s homes in Corpus Christi, Texas. The series delves deeper into Abraham Quintanilla’s own struggle between joining the working class or pursuing his love of music. In the series, Henry Quintanilla (Abraham’s brother) tells him about an available truck-driving position. Abraham’s response is, “I’ll drive a truck, as long as it doesn’t interfere with band practice.”

Countless examples throughout the series shine a light on the fact that Abraham Quintanilla loves music and was going to pursue a career in music at all cost. Unable to find success with his own band Los Dinos, he turned his attention to his own children and in particular AB Quintanilla, who he groomed to be the Selena y Los Dinos songwriter, and to daughter Selena who led the band.

Many opinions have been cast against the series and its focus on Abraham and AB Quintanilla. The truth is much of part one of Selena: The Series follows the young life of Selena, between ages eight and 20. Selena was just a child, under the direction of her parents, her older brother AB, and older sister Suzette. Killed at age 23, Selena would never be given the opportunity to gain control over her own career.

The Chicano Question

Despite the word “Chicano” never being used in the series, it was the context of her life. Selena’s career was galvanized when the Quintanilla’s discovered the best market for them was a Chicano, Mexican, Central American, and Spanish-speaking audience. First was with Tejano music – exclusively Chicano, this genre was invented in Texas – then by taking their music to Matamoros, México, when Selena was only 16 years old.

Having only really sung in Spanish but realizing she would have to speak the language conversationally, Selena embarked on a mission to become more fluent. As most Chicanos are also faced with a similar question in their lives, the series attempts to draw this connection. Chicanos do not just originate from Mexican Americans; they can also be of various other roots, like Central American.

A brief nod to Chicana Linda Ronstadt’s mariachi album is made when they are all in a car and from the speakers Ronstadt is heard singing Tú, Sólo Tú. Selena would cover the song in 1995 and it would be the first Spanish song release after her death.

The first-ever Chicana musician signed onto the EMI record label, the brand was challenged with trying to market a Tejano musician like Selena. They slashed her band’s name and portrayed her as a “worldly” musician, of an ambiguous nature. Racism and tokenism ensued and a scene in the series shone a light on this during the record label’s listening party. Capitalism always has a difficult time monetizing off Chicanos, but at the bare minimum they recognize Chicanismo sells.

Chicanas Christian Serratos and Madison Taylor Baez

One of the most cringeworthy critiques observed from people regarding Selena: The Series is that Serratos looks nothing like Selena. In an interview, Suzette Quintanilla said, “I felt really bad for Christian because not only would she have to portray Selena, but she would also have to portray J-Lo as Selena.” Abraham Quintanilla in the same interview said that people protested at their Corpus Christi office when Jennifer Lopez was cast to play as Selena, only two years after Selena was murdered. “They were upset that we cast a Puerto Rican to play Selena,” said Quintanilla.

Madison Taylor Baez is a Chicana from Los Angeles and in interviews, she admits she did not know who Selena was. Baez said her parents found the casting call for the film and jumped on it. As soon as they found out Baez had gotten the part, they immersed her in Selena history. “I identify a lot with Selena because I too am Latina, and I too had to learn Spanish, and I too would love to be a singer,” said Baez in an interview.

But no one is publicly bashing Baez for her portrayal as young Selena. The brunt of the criticisms has been on Serratos. Serratos is half Italian and half Chicana, a Pasadena, California native, and uses her mother’s Chicano last name as opposed to her father’s Italian one.

Important for Aztlan, important to the world

It's true, no one will ever look or be just like Selena. No one will ever sound like Selena. And no one will ever be able to come close to the significance Selena had for little Chicanitas like myself who grew up wanting to sing, dance, and look just like her. Selena continues to be one of the biggest role models for Latinas and people around the world.

Honoring her Chicana roots, but also always giving a shout-out to the Black Belt South, no one else has been able to effortlessly do as Selena did. An example of this is portrayed in the series when Selena kept wanting to do covers of Jody Watley’s songs. Selena’s last concert was in San Antonio and she opened her show with a disco medley. The songs were I Will Survive, Funkytown, Last Dance, The Hustle and On the Radio- songs originally performed by Black musicians. During her final concert, Selena would also be accompanied by Black, male backup singers.

I also have shared in singing to Selena songs with Black people who were from Texas. If you are from Texas, no matter who you are, you have heard of Selena at least once.

2020 was a significant year for Chicanos. From the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, the 25th year after Selena’s death, to the release of this series. A whole new generation of Selena fans will come of this, and many of whom will be Baez’s age. I recently gave birth to my own Chicanita who will grow up in the Chicano nation of Aztlan. She too, will grow up listening to Selena and dancing to her songs. Maybe the 50th year after Selena’s passing will mean another Selena movie or series. Another project will pull at all of the heartstrings and make all of our hearts once again go Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.

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