Selena Quintanilla-Pérez captured the hearts and minds of generations.
The Tejana pop superstar's life was cut short in 1995. But for passing admirers — and her Latino and Chicana fans in particular — Selena is a mirror and a guide to what's possible and what it means to belong on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the new podcast “Anything For Selena,” WBUR senior arts and culture editor Maria Garcia unpacks not only the life of the singer but the way Selena has impacted us all. Garcia weaves in Selena’s story with her own personal journey as a fan.
The podcast breaks down what makes Selena’s legacy so enduring. Garcia spent a year examining and unpacking Selena’s impact on the world, which can't be separated from Garcia’s own story as a Mexican-American.
Garcia says she knew she needed to tell the singer’s story through the lens of her own experience as someone who grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border — but she didn’t expect how vulnerable and personal the podcast would get.
“The reason I knew Selena mattered so much is because I experienced it,” Garcia says. “I experienced what it felt like to see a woman who didn't have to code switch on either side of the border, who celebrated an identity that had felt so derided for so long.”
“Anything For Selena” gives listeners a deeper understanding of the perceptions of Latinos in this country.
In one part, Garcia plays a clip of Howard Stern's show just a few days after Selena was killed. When a Tejano DJ confronted Stern about insensitively playing gunshot sounds while talking about Selena, Stern unapologetically yelled at the DJ to “leave my country” and “go to Mexico.”
Selena died on a Friday and this interaction occurred the following Monday at “a very crucial moment in culture,” Garcia says. Stern was making fun of both Selena and the working-class Latino mourners pictured on national news over the weekend, she says.
“I know Howard Stern has made fun of other people like this, but it was important for me to include that because that shows us that mourning Selena, loving Selena has always been political,” she says. “That was sort of the weekend that her symbol very clearly concretized as sort of a shorthand for Latino identity in this country.”
In the podcast, Garcia takes listeners back to the late ‘90s in ways such as Jennifer Lopez starring as Selena in “Selena: The Movie” at the start of what’s called the Latin Explosion with the rise of artists like Ricky Martin and Shakira. Garcia provides context to lay bare the complicated racial politics of what it means to be Latino, specifically with what she calls “big butt politics.”
Garcia witnessed the whitewashing of big butts in American culture in her lifetime, starting when she saw her community celebrate big butts as a child. The conversation around big butt politics opens up a larger discussion about using Latinidad as “a tool of white supremacy,” she says.
“Black women have always been at the head of celebrating butts and big butt culture,” she says. “This episode really digs into how Latinas historically in pop culture have taken something that has been derided in Black women and have made it accessible and desirable and safe for white audiences and have capitalized on Black culture.”
In an upcoming episode, Garcia digs deeper into how the relationship between anti-Blackness and colonization materializes within families.
Upon looking at family pictures, Garcia says she realized that she would perceive her grandmother as a Black or Black and Indigenous mixed-race woman in the U.S today. But her family never acknowledged her grandmother’s Blackness, she says.
Garcia asked her aunt why her grandmother never grew out her hair, and her aunt responded that her grandmother would have had an afro. Thinking about her grandmother served as a reckoning on the deeply rooted erasure of Blackness in her family, she says.
At the same time, Garcia confronted her own whiteness and recalled hearing stories about her grandmother praising her fair skin as a baby.
Maternal grandmothers hold the key to one’s generational trauma and joys, she says. This reckoning left Garcia with questions about what it means to come from “a woman whose Blackness was erased” — and to find answers, she says Latinos need to deepen the conversation around whiteness.
This segment aired on February 15, 2021.