Selena Quintanilla Is Mislabeled As The Tex-Mex Madonna

Selena Quintanilla Perez

Selena Quintanilla: Queen of the People

Selena Quintanilla was third-generation American. There is a sense of familiarity around her story — many of her fans connected with her struggle of not being “Mexican-enough” for Mexicans or “American-enough” for Americans. In fact, English was her native language and she didn’t learn Spanish until she was older. This is part of the cultural balancing act that resonates with many people of colour, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that existed during her rise. Not only did she dominate the regional Tejano music scene, she navigated her way through the multinational Latin music market. By the time of her murder in 1995, she had already won a Grammy, launched a clothing line, and was working on an album that would take her to a new musical space: English-language pop music.

Fans often refer to the star as “La Reina del Puebla” which translates to “The Queen Of The People”. She was known to be very family-oriented — she continued to live in her hometown of Corpus Christi well after her music career took form. She remained close with her family, with her parents and brother living in the same neighbourhood. When news of her murder broke, many English-speaking media outlets were faced with public displays of mourning for a celebrity that was unknown to them. In an attempt to piece together the mystery of Selena Quintanilla, they focused on things like her stage outfits and their similarities to Madonna’s — labelling her as an overnight sensation. They continued by dubbing her the “Tex-Mex Madonna”, when in fact Selena’s style was much more reflective of her own identity rather than a carbon and racialized copy of Madonna’s.

Her Legacy is More than her Posthumous Success

The concept “Tex-Mex Madonna” also contributes to the problematic “Hot Tamale” narrative that many Latinas face — hyper-sexualization and exoticization. This is especially upsetting because Selena was actually known for reinventing the sexualized Tejana body. To label her as “Spicy” and “Hot Tamale” discredits the ways that she created a more positive representation for Latinas and fails to capture her true essence — this is one of the reasons that she ignited such pride and hope among Latinx communities. She was wholesome, down-to-earth, and caring — not exactly a larger than life popstar like Madonna as some outlets led the public to believe. Her image was her own in a way that’s often seems lost in the grand scheme of the music industry.

From her Posthumous Studio Album, Dreaming of You

The Gendered Reality of Tejano Music

The fact that Selena was a female Tejano musician is an incredibly important distinction. At the time, most Tejano musicians were overwhelmingly males and Selena forged a precedent for the female Tejano musicians that followed. Further, Selena’s male counterparts failed to bring Tejano music to the international stage with the same strength and impact. In fact, Tejano music was ignored by many Latinx communities prior to her success.

Tejano music has always been a fusion of regional sounds — it is a reflection of the people that exist at la Frontera, the 2,000 mile Mexico-U.S. border. In its early days, Tejano could be described as a mix of Czech and German accordions, Mexican conjunto, and American big band. Eventually, modern artists like Selena created music that also incorporated genres like Pop, Rock, and other popular styles. By doing so, her raw, unfiltered voice and musical experimentation captured the attention of her older generations as well as her own.

Selena has Made Musical Contributions, Not Just Cultural Ones

A rare interview before a performance in Corpus Christi, TX