Selena Quintanilla and the Vampire’s Tale
I know nothing of Helen of Troy, but I do know that Selena Quintanilla had the talent to inspire millions of women and girls with a voice that belted out heartache and hope like a blinding light with her bejewelled bustier of her own design and lipstick that never faded. Selena’s voice tells us stories with authentic emotion scoured and released from places we have all visited in our lives at one point or another. There are moments it is as light as a feather’s touch moving to notes that are cenote deep, then it jettisons into the air to explode like the bright bloom of a firework. It is a gift to have the ability to share that with the grace Selena so effortlessly exhibited.
The songs from Mexico must be sung with a certain power that borders on witchcraft to immerse the listener into the world of the storyteller. Sometimes a grito will signal the beginning of the song. The grito is a visceral call of joy or pain. Tú Solo Tú, originally performed by Pedro Infante, is one such song covered by Selena. Her version is a haunting mix of femininity, love and power. Que Creías, is reminiscent of those soul scorching ballads from Mexico. There is video of Selena performing this song at an outdoor concert. She kneels in the dirt while wearing leather trousers to recreate the drama of the story. Watching her performance of Como La Flor at the Astrodrome in Houston, Texas will raise the hair on your body. After addressing the crowd in Spanish, which she had to learn as a native English speaker, she takes her time with the song, allowing the words to roll off her tongue so that every member of the audience has a chance to savour the moment and what the music means to them. Her hands move like those of a flamenco dancer even though she is a Tejana. She looks like a shooting star in a glittery, bell bottom catsuit. I can’t help to think how representative this is of Chicanahood: the blend of Spanish, the Mexican and the American pop.
But what does Selena have to do with vampires or horror?
When the idea about a Mexicana, vampire heroine possessed my imagination, I wanted her story to be dark, yet the pivotal moment that changed her life to come from the light. It would be Selena’s music. If we don’t see it is possible to achieve something beyond what we view as our limitations, how are we to believe it? How can we know to persevere in the face of adversity when there is no benchmark, or we feel there is no space for us? Passion can be contagious and affect people in life-altering ways even if they have never met before. As I previously mentioned, Selena slayed when it came to live performances. A concert. Maria’s moment would be at a concert.
Did you know Selena left school in the eighth grade to pursue music? Eventually, she did obtain her GED, but what a monumental leap of faith to make her dreams come true. Some people might snub their noses, but her music has the power of a book regardless of her education. Knowing this gave me the courage to attempt to publish something that was not on trend, without an agent, or publisher. I had faith in myself when no one else did. When I was filled with self-doubt, crying alone with a bottle of screw top wine and fears, her music was a gentle nudge to get me back up again.
Selena went on the road and hustled with Los Dinos when people said it couldn’t be done. Tejano music was long established as a male dominated genre. It was a slow burn for Selena y Los Dinos, receiving little attention at first and playing small venues. Soon her voice was heard and earned the attention of larger labels. She did it, and she did it with the heart and soul of a Chicana.
That was the essence of my story: women embracing who they are despite their assigned places. Female sexuality or femininity is not something to cower from or be punished for. You can’t help but to be mesmerized by Selena as she twirls in elaborate, form fitting costumes with hair long and loose flying wherever the music took it. She wasn’t afraid to show her natural shape, not for the enjoyment of our gaze, but because she was proud. She showed girls and women that wild hair, bright lips, dark skin, natural curves, and confidence are beautiful attributes. She owned her music, look, body, and dance moves. There was no hiding herself out of fear of not being taken seriously. Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. I wanted to achieve this in some small way even if it meant self-publishing.
I included two songs in the book. The first song is in the opening as Maria works in a maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico in 1995, a time of economic hardship for Mexicans during the Peso Crisis. Maria wants more for her unborn child in this uncertainty. Bidi Bidi Bom Bom is an up-tempo tune that could make the end of the world feel like a party. Your feet will be willing time-keepers to the beat. The second song is Dreaming of You. Maria cradles an infant while tenderly singing him this song. This child has Mexican parents but born in the US. I specifically included this scene because I believe that dreams should not be reserved for the few. All the Dreamers in the U.S. deserve to live and study without threat of deportation.
Selena’s story ended in murder at twenty-three years of age at the hands of another woman. It is a tragedy no one will understand or get over. I’m not over it and I will never stop feeling angry over her untimely death, all those stories that await to be told by her strong voice have been silenced. Her death can be a valuable lesson. Women should be for each other, not against each other. So much more can be accomplished by standing together because we are all trying to go somewhere. There is no space for shaming someone else’s journey. This was another piece of her story I wanted to incorporate into Maria’s. A group of women from different places in time from different backgrounds coming together to achieve great things.
Selena’s memory or music will never die because her presence filled people with awe and inspired their lives. Like the vampire, her story will be immortalized for future generations. What is internalized from her story will differ person to person.
I took two of my loves and created something of my own. My stories are my grito, my song, my pain and pride. Don’t be afraid to show yours. We don’t know when any of our stories will end or what stumbling blocks will be placed at our feet. All I know is you need to take all that rubble and build a fucking bridge, then scream or sing when you find yourself on the other side. I don’t claim to be the best at anything, in fact I probably give myself the worst review a person could possibly write because it loops in my mind daily, but I will never regret trying and neither should you.