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Selena Quintanilla-Perez

by HAP MANSFIELD

In 1995, the murder of popular Tejana music star Selena Quintanilla-Perez sent shock waves through music fans and the Hispanic community.

If you go…

Paredez

Noted author Deborah Parédez will speak on the cultural and musical impact of Selena’s death at the Texas State hosted “From Selena Quintanilla -Perez to Selena Gomez: The Evolution and Celebration of Latino/a Popular Music” on Oct.8.

The event will go from 12-4:30 p.m. at the LBJ Student Center Ballroom at Texas State University in San Marcos. A reception and book signing will follow Paredez’ speech along with a performance by Salsa Del Rio playing a special tribute to Selena’s music.

The event is presented by the Center for Social Inquiry and the Department of Sociology in collaboration with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Latino Empowerment Conference. The Alpha Chapter of Sigma Delta Lambda Sorority Inc. will host the event, which is free and open to the public.

Deborah Parédez, director of the Mexican American Studies program and associate professor of theater and dance at the University of Texas, is author of the award-winning “Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory.” In the book, she documents the rise of Selena’s career and the subsequent political and musical events following the star’s death. The slain star, Parédez contends, became both a cultural flashpoint and an iconic figure in the Latino and Latino community. Parédez coined the term “Selenidad” to encapsulate the star’s impact.

In addition to her work exploring and trying to define what it is to be a Latino in contemporary culture, Paradez is the author of the highly lauded poetry collection, This Side of Skin. She was also awarded the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Writing Award.

Paredez took time to answer a few questions.

San Marcos Mercury: The death of much beloved Tejana recording star Selena Quintanilla-Perez seems to be the starting point for your book and led you to coin the term “Selinidad”. Can you explain the term a bit?

Parédez: The term, Selenidad, refers to the phenomenon of commemoration surrounding Selena. This space of remembrance took on a wide range of shapes, meanings, and effects.

Selena died during a moment in which Latino communities were facing increased surveillance as a result of immigration and welfare reform (1996) and increased “visibility” as a result of mainstream efforts to tap into the “Latino market,” Latino voting blocs, and the so-called “Latin boom” in the entertainment industries.

Many Latinos used the space of Selenidad to express both the grief and the (failed) promise of Selena and the grief and promise of their own lives within this political and cultural context.

Mercury: What kind of impact did Selena Quintanilla-Perez’s death have on the Hispanic community?

Parédez: Selena and her death were used explicitly to redouble efforts to construct and tap into the “Latino market” (as the launch of People en Espanol, the Spanish language American magazine published by Time Inc., reveals).

But beyond that, and to me, much more interesting than that, are the ways that many diverse groups of Latinos took up Selena and the space of her memory to carve out or claim spaces of their own. For young girls, she provided a model for expressing and owning one’s own sense of budding sexuality or one’s own entrepreneurial dreams. For queer Latinos she provided a sense of cultural “homecoming,” a way for many queer Latinos to feel a link back to the community that had previously shunned them.

For other Latino recording artists, she and her band provided a model for drawing from a wide range of musical influences to create a genuinely “modern” Tejano and, indeed, U.S. Latino sound.

Mercury: How would you characterize the response to your book so far?

Parédez: I am thrilled to hear that it is being taught in classes like introduction to Chicana/o studies or in performance studies courses. I am equally happy to hear that some of her fans have responded favorably to it as well. I was hoping that even though it is a scholarly study of her afterlife, that a wide range of readers could find something in it for them.

Mercury: What do you hope people will take from your book?

Parédez: I hope that in addition to understanding how significant a cultural figure Selena was and is within (and beyond) American culture, that readers will also take seriously the role of performance/performers and the cultural act of collective memory within the larger national landscape. I also want readers to be as impressed as I was by the really savvy and smart “fans,” or cultural critics, as I like to refer to them, who graciously agreed to share their insights with me.

Mercury: Can you explain a bit about Latinidad?

Parédez: Latinidad is the process of Latino identity formation. No one is necessarily “born” a Latino, but, rather, becomes one through a range of cultural and political choices.

Moreover, one becomes a Latino only within the context (and borders) of the U.S. Additionally, one can claim oneself a Latino for politically strategic purposes while still proclaiming a regional or national identity such as Tejana. I tend to claim Latino, Tejana, and Chicana, depending on the context.

This term of identification, like all such terms, is contingent and situational and dynamic. Latino is a term generated from within the communities (as opposed to state-imposed like the term Hispanic) that ideally attempts to acknowledge the wide range of racial, class, regional, and linguistic diversity within it. Of course, because it is so broad a term, it is often, and rightly, criticized for having little “coherence.”

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