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On March 31st, 1995, on the cusp of national stardom, Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla was tragically shot and killed at the age of 23.
About Maria Garcia
26 years later, Journalist Maria Garcia decided to track Selena’s short but impactful journey. Her result was a thought-provoking podcast series called Anything for Selena. Named Apple Podcasts’ Show of the Year of 2021, Anything for Selena follows Selena through her life as she challenged existing notions of race and body image, eventually becoming one of the ultimate vessels for change in the Latino and Mexican-American community in the United States.
Join us for our first-ever All About Change episode, as Maria examines the woman behind the cultural icon and why Selena’s star burns brighter than ever before.
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to “All About Change,” stories of activism, courage, and change.
Greta Thunberg: This is all wrong.
Simone Biles: I say put mental health first because…
John F. Kennedy: This generation of Americans has already had enough.
Leonardo DiCaprio: I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.
Jay Ruderman: Each episode we bring you in-depth and intimate conversations with inspiring individuals trying to change the world.
Maria Garcia: Oh, my goodness, I mean, I have just been like, genuinely obsessed with her my whole life.
Jay Ruderman: And today on our show, Maria Garcia creator and host of the award winning podcast “Anything for Selena.”
Maria Garcia: She really was, at least for me, the very first person I saw on television who spoke like me.
Jay Ruderman: Selena Quintanilla was a famous, groundbreaking and influential Mexican-American singer. On March 31st, 1995, just one year after becoming the first Tejano artist to win a Grammy, on the cusp of national stardom, Selena was tragically shot and killed.
26 years later, Maria Garcia sought to track Selena’s journey. In nine thought-provoking episodes Maria illustrates how Selena challenged existing notions of race and body image, and how she became one of the ultimate vessels for change in the Latino and Mexican-American community in the United States.
Maria Garcia: She has transcended from artist to individual to sort of cultural heritage that we pass on from generation to generation.
Jay Ruderman: Having grown up along the border in El Paso, Texas, as a first generation Mexican-American, Maria weaves her own personal narrative into the podcast, trying to figure out why all these years later she still feels such a strong connection to Selena. This story is as much about Maria’s journey of self discovery, as it is the story of Selena’s impact and legacy as an artist.
Maria Garcia: It was like these two worlds of mine that never came together were suddenly paying attention to the same thing. And suddenly, my community was visible, and that was because of Selena.
Jay Ruderman: Maria Garcia, thank you so much for joining me I so much look forward to this conversation.
Maria: Thank you for having me.
Jay Ruderman: I want to start by asking you a question about Selena herself. Why do you think after 27 years after her death, she’s more popular than ever?
Maria Garcia: I think there are several answers to that. one, she was an extraordinary person. You know, we talk a lot about Selena as a legend as a symbol as an icon. But I really like to ground my conversations about her as a human being. She was a living, breathing woman who walked this earth. And there was something really special about her, like, you know, people talk a lot about, you know, how there’s individuals who walk into a room and just light up a room and that sort of trite and cliche, and we hear that all the time. But with Selena, we actually have the proof, you know, there is like this vast Internet Archive of videos of her
[archival videos play]
Maria Garcia: You actually see the way that she really activated people, and her warmth just came through. And so, one, I think, you know, in her short time here on Earth, she just made a,a tremendous impression on people with her warmth, and her charisma and her kindness and her humility.. And then the second thing is she has evolved from an individual to what I like to call cultural patrimony, she’s become sort of the ultimate symbol of Latino identity in the United States, her face, her iconography has become sort of a badge of Latinidad, of Latino identity in this country. And so she has transcended from artist to individual to sort of cultural heritage that we pass on from generation to generation. There’s people like myself, there’s a whole generation of people who grew up in the 80s, in the 90s, in the early aughts – and she played such a formidable role in the formation of our identity, she really was, at least for me, the very first person I saw on television, who spoke like me, you know, growing up on the US Mexico border between Mexico and the United States, I always felt like I wasn’t quite enough in either place. And here was Selena, who was both Mexican and American. And it was, it was truly the first person I saw in mass media, who embodied this identity, that I didn’t even have the language to articulate.
Jay Ruderman: You delve into the podcast about speaking, how you refer to it as Spanglish, you know that, that you’re speaking English, you know, Spanish, but your Spanish isn’t, isn’t perfect. And also, Selena also had the same type of Spanish, and yet, she went to Mexico. And I think there was a lot of apprehension that she wouldn’t be accepted because her Spanish was not perfect. But she was just embraced and loved as one of the people.
[insert clip from selena movie]
Jay Ruderman: maybe you could talk a little bit about that about how, you know, she was not ostracized in Mexico. She was loved there, but she was also loved in the Mexican American community in the United States.
Maria Garcia: You know, to me growing up on the border, she was already like, a mainstream American pop star in my community, you know, like, we already saw her as a mainstream American icon. She spoke perfect English, you know, she was an American teen, she, she was heavily influenced by black pop, and artists like Taste of Honey and Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. she was to me, a quintessential American pop icon. But she wasn’t yet, accepted in Mexico. And that’s because, you know, historically, what Mexicans often refer to, as pochos, you know, Mexican Americans who grew up in the United States and who don’t speak perfect Spanish, there’s a history of them being ostracized and really rejected in Mexico. And so, I felt that in my own personal life, but here was this woman, this American woman who spoke like me, who listened to the same music as me, who came from the same sort of Mexican American culture as me, and she didn’t call herself Mexican American, she went to Mexico when she said, I’m proud of my roots, I’m Mexican, you know, I don’t sound like you. I may not be born here. But this culture, you know, this heritage, it’s mine, too, and I’m proud of it. it was really, really impactful for me to see that. And it really gave me an example of how I could, you know, approach speaking Spanish and getting close to my roots, without shame. You know, it provided a roadmap for me. And that was crucial, because, this was in the mid 90s, early to mid 90s. I was in grade school. My parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. And, you know, we grew up in a border community. But it was a pretty rural border community and the way the sort of social hierarchy was set up, is you had these white landowners, these white farmers, and then they were sort of, like, at the top of the social hierarchy. And then at the bottom were like, the, the sons and daughters of the farm workers, And so, this was the age where assimilation was highly prized. Like, I remember in grade school, you know, nobody asked me if I wanted to be Mary, you know, nobody asked my parents if they could call me Mary. My mom just went to an open house one day, and they were like, Oh, you’re Mary’s parents. And my mom was like, Who is Mary, you know, who is this little girl you’re speaking of, but she just sort of accepted it and I became Mary And Mary spoke perfect English, Mary, listened to American music, Mary, Mary was like, fully American, and then I would cross the border and, and I wasn’t Mary anymore. And these two worlds were really separate from each other. And I and I really did feel like I was living these two lives and I didn’t have the language for it because I was so young. And it was just the way life was, like, I just thought that that was completely normal that that that’s the way life was until I saw Selena
[insert from anything for selena]
To me, it provided an example of how to ascend in this country without compromising your roots, without letting go of the things that make you you. And yeah, that that stayed with me my entire life.
You know, I also have had a, somewhat of a similar experience that I brought my kids up in Israel. I’m a Bostonian. But now we live in Boston. And my son is machaelle. And yet his his friends call him Michael and his teachers call Michael and every time I see him with his friends, and I’m like, who’s Michael, this is Mikhail. And I just think that there’s this desire to fit in. And it takes a real strong, special person to say, No, this is who I am. And, and I’m proud of who I am. And, and I think that maybe that is what she left us in some way, which left us so many different things. But I want to bring you back to a difficult time. You were nine years old. On March 31 1995, you came home and heard about the news of Selena’s murder. Tell us what you remember about that moment. And, and what impact it had on you at the time.
Yeah, that moment is blurry for me. But at the same time, so vivid, Like, I remember the feelings of that Friday afternoon. We lived in a trailer. And I remember being in the living room in the trailer with my mom. And I remember being glued to the television.
I remember, you know, seeing news reports of a standoff between a woman who had shot Selena and who locked herself in her truck, And I remember not knowing whether Selena was alive or not. And I remember flipping through the channels that day, and seeing Selena’s face, and seeing the news about her death in both English and Spanish. And I remember how much that struck me because I had never experienced that in my life. I had never seen national mainstream network news in the US cover my community like that. And suddenly, girls like me, and people like me and communities like mine, working class, Latino communities, all over the US had these spontaneous vigils.
And suddenly, like, there were all of these images of, of these working class Latino folks like mourning out in the street, and it was, you know, they were communities in the mid 90s that like, in mainstream media and mass media were, were pretty invisible. You know, this was the decade where Latino, the demographics really changed. The Latino population really soared in the US. There was a 60% increase from 1990 to 2000 of the Latino population in the US, and people were talking about like, the next millennium You know, what’s the country going to look like in the year 2000. And there were these like, very, very palpable fears that Latinos were going to take over that they weren’t going to assimilate. And the way that Latinos were portrayed in mass media, they were lost dropouts, or teen moms or dangerous gang members, there were very few, like positive portrayals of Latinos. So I remember it struck me like to see this news coverage of communities like mine, on national us network news, and Mexican network news. And suddenly, like all of my friends in the US were calling me and being like, are you watching this? I can’t believe it, you know, I can’t believe she’s gone. And then like, my relatives from Mexico, were calling me and they also couldn’t believe it. And it was like these two wor lds of mine that never came together, were suddenly paying attention to the same thing. And suddenly, my community was visible. And that was because of Selena.
I want to delve a little bit deeper into the impact that Selena has had. And you’ve said that anytime you need to find yourself you come back to Selena. What was the impetus for you to create “Anything for Selena?”
Oh, my goodness, one, I mean, I have just been like, genuinely obsessed with her my whole life like I am, I’m a real I go OG fan. You know, I’ve been loving her like, I, I can’t remember the first time I discovered her because like, I just discovered her through like osmosis growing up, she was in the air, she was everywhere growing up on the border. So I literally like just grew up, like came into myself with sort of her in like, the recesses of my brain with her already sort of part of like, what I knew about the world. And then I came to love her and understand her in different ways throughout my life.. And there’s so many things about Selena out there. You know, every year on the anniversary of her death, and on the anniversary of her birth, there’s a flurry of news articles and think pieces. And I grew up sort of consuming this Selena media. But as a journalist, I was really hungry for somebody to go really deep on this, I was really hungry for somebody to really take me through her legacy. And show me show me how she became this icon. Like, really show me how she became ultimate symbol of Latino identity in this country, I was hungry for that deep dive. And so it was like this lifelong passion to create it. And so I pitched it for several years. And then finally, somebody said, Okay, let’s do this. And it was just like this lifelong dream, to really make meaning of this icon, who has had this huge influence in my life, and how I make sense of my own place in the world.
So you were based in Boston. But in order to write anything for Selena, you went back to El Paso, Texas, and in the first episode, you you talk about the smell of the creosote bush, and how it permeates the air after a thunderstorm. Why do you think it was important for you to go back to El Paso to tell this story?
That’s a really good question. Part of what drew me to Selena was that I grew up on the border. And growing up between two countries really made me the person who I am, it made me exist in this sort of in between. And it was existing in that sort of in between that drew me to Selena because she existed in that in between, and I had never seen anybody who could traverse both sides and be fully themselves in each country. That’s the basis of my love for Selena. And, you know, I think a lot of the times we talk about the places we’re from in this very metaphorical way, especially the border, people talk about the border in this, you know, there are whole studies about the border as a concept, you know,we talk about it in these abstract ways. But really, to me, my connection to this place is very visceral, like, my body recognizes this land. And when I land in El Paso, I always say that it’s like, my shoulders make peace with my neck, it’s like, something happens inside of me that says, Oh, I know where we are, like, something old and ancestral that was passed down to me from the people in my family who lived here before, it’s just this visceral recognition of this land. And I wanted to really convey that in my podcast, that, that this journey to understand her, it starts in the body,
[insert from anything for selena]
So let’s talk about the border a little bit. And and you talk about how Selena became a potent symbol for political ideology and social causes. And and I’m sure this took on a special significant meaning in the whole era, build the wall. And, Can you talk a little bit about that about how, you know, the political conversation of the border, and and, you know, how Selena and how the podcast, you know, covered that?
One example that I think really illustrates this is when Donald Trump was running for president, there was a Latinos for Trump coalition in Texas and around the US. And they specifically chose the Salina memorial in Corpus Christi as a place to hold one of their rallies, precisely because Selena is sort of the ultimate symbol for Latino identity, like I’ve said in this country. And so it felt potent enough for them, you know, to go to her memorial and to do Latinos for Trump rally there. Then, of course, we saw a backlash to that. And there were so many people who spoke out against that, including her her own father. Selena was not a political person, at least explicitly or publicly. And that’s because her father instilled in her this very old school ideology that the artist must exist for their art, must create their art and must not get involved in religion, or politics. But after her death she transcended from individual into symbol. And now, you know, there have been so many causes, that have really leveraged her symbolism, and when I say her symbolism, I mean, like her actual imagery, like Selenas face, is like a badge that says, like, I stand for something, like, I affirm Latino life. she’s become this potent symbol for immigration causes for social justice causes. She’s become the symbol of solidarity between black Americans and Latino Americans. And, you know, it’s something that that her family struggles with a little bit because like I said, they they, they were purposely and explicitly apolitical and so it’s hard for them to reconcile how much she’s become a political symbol, because they still see her as like Selena, the person not Selena, the symbol, not Selena, the icon, and so there’s this inherent tension in Selena as a person and Selena as a political symbol. And, and there will always be, there will always be that tension.
So I want to talk a little bit about her family. And you you mentioned in the podcast that your producers told you if you can’t get the family on board, if they can’t get the music, this is not going to happen. So you knew that you had to go and meet Abraham her father, and you had to talk to him. And well, for many Selena fans that are very complicated feelings about her father, did your perspective about him change after you interviewed him?
Oh, my God. Yes. I mean, I was terrified of him. I was terrified of him. I you know, I was really Young when I discovered her and I was nine years old when she died, and I was 11 years old when the, when the biopic of her life came out. And you know, in that biopic he’s portrayed as this really strict, kind of machista really demanding father, and you know, he has a short fuse in the movie. There’s this scene that really stayed with me, of, you know, when he finds out that Selena is dating her guitarist, and he basically threatens her and he says, you know, if you stay with this man, I’m going to disband this group.
[scene from movie plays]
And here was this dream that Selena had been working on her entire life. To become financially independent, to provide for her family to become a star, you know, to have her art in the world and here he was threatening to take it away from her, if he could not control her. that’s, that’s a really hard legacy that he leaves behind, you know, that, that that that’s out there of him and, and that’s what he’s known for. And so yeah, I was really honestly kind of intimidated and really scared to meet him. And I was really nervous, because at here I was wanting to make this big, beautiful love letter project is ode to his daughter, and, and I had talked to him a few times on the phone, and he was like, nope, not interested. Sorry. You know, a lot of people tell me that not impressed. Um, but I was in Boston, and he was in Texas. And I was like, if I can just get down there, if I can just meet him face to face, if I can just make the case if he can just meet me, you know, if you can just look into my heart a little bit and see that my intentions are pure, but also, I wanted to meet him like I, I wanted to go beyond the stereotype of him. I wanted to go beyond the movie, I wanted to really understand his relationship with his daughter, because she talked about him a lot, a lot. I mean, he wasn’t just her father. He was her mentor, as an artist. They had a very special bond. She talked about it all the time. And I wanted–I knew that to understand her as an artist, as a person, as a daughter as a human being, I needed to understand her family, and I needed to understand him specifically. I knew that he was going to have the ultimate yes or no, and about whether we could we could use this music and ultimately if this project would come to fruition or not, and so I was incredibly nervous. The stakes were really high. And when I met him, there was a lightness to him, a sort of humor. and the more time I spent with him, the more I realized, like what a complicated person he is, and, and what a complicated person Selena was. And just like she didn’t want to be a saint, you know, people talk about St. Selena, like, she was a real woman, and, she didn’t want to be a saint, he didn’t want to be a villain. And he loved her the best way he knew how, which was to protect her. And it wasn’t perfect, and it was deeply flawed. And the scene that I just told you about where he, you know, threatened to take away her career – like he told me, it happened just like that, just like you see it in the movie. Just like they portrayed me in that scene? That’s exactly the way it happened. And yet, getting to know him allowed me to hold on to that truth. And also hold on to the truth of like, the sort of tender side to him and this, the lightness to him and, and, and to realize that he’s a whole person. Like, he’s a, he’s a whole person. Like, he’s not just like this stereotype.
Do you know how her family has reacted to your podcast?
Yeah, um, after listening to it, her father called me and told me that he was really proud of me. And that he really enjoyed it. And he said, he cried with episode two. And yeah, and he told me to keep up the good work. And, yeah, they’ve reacted really positively. I’m really grateful for that.
speaking about fathers, a very touching part of your podcast is when you talk about your own father, and your relationship, did making anything for Selena, help you find some closure? To understand the relationship that you had with your father?
Yeah absolutely – my father died in a unexpected and tragic accident the year before I met Salinas father. My father was a long distance truck driver, and another truck that was carrying a windmill blade crashed into him. And, and he died on New Year’s Eve, the year before I met Selena’s father, so I was still very much making sense of that loss. Especially because when my father died, we had just started a sort of this new phase of our relationship. I had become a mother a few years prior. And my father and I were rebuilding our relationship after many years of estrangement in my adolescence. And we hadn’t figured it all out, and we hadn’t gotten closure. But we were making steps, you know, we were walking in the direction of healing. And then he was suddenly taken away. And spending time with Selena’s father, when I was still mourning the loss of mine. I could not separate like the journalist, from the daughter, and here was this man who also lost someone unexpectedly, who also lost his daughter in a tragic way. And so speaking with him, and hearing him talk about that loss made me confront my own. like I just, I wanted so badly to make sense of that loss, and I wanted–you know, a year after he died, I think I was still really sort of angry, like, I was angry that I didn’t get to have this closure with my dad, I felt like, like, I didn’t have a chance to solve this mystery with my father to, to make full peace to understand him as a person to understand why he left. why we were estranged for so long. And I think that meeting Abraham, and seeing that he also had unanswered questions about the loss of his daughter really helped me unload that burden that I was carrying, it was one of the most profound things that I experienced while making the podcast.
[insert from anything for selena]
That’s beautiful. And I’m sorry for your loss.I also want to talk about how Selena helped redefine beauty standards, and cultural identity and body image.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, she, she really did well, first of all. When she got famous, she never let go of this very specific sort of mix, like working class, Mexican American aesthetic, you know, like, the frizzy hair, the big hoops, the Crimson lips like that aesthetic was found in like working class Mexican American communities all around., that’s how our cousin’s dressed. You know, that’s how our aunt’s dressed. And then also, I remember, since I was a kid, like, there was a lot of attention paid to her body. And particularly, you know, her derriere.
[insert from ‘anything for selena’]
especially when she died, and there were auditions for the person who was going to play her in her bio pic, I remember like watching, especially Spanish language media. And like, the idea that whoever played her next had to have like a similar body type and very specifically, a similar like, derriere similar behind was like, a very, like legitimate criteria, like people talked about this. like a national like talk shows this was like a very real criteria. And so there was this, like, obsession with her body. And then of course, JLo comes along. And JLo then completely leverages that, like, JL really redefines like the desirable body type in America. And I believe there’s like a cultural lineage. There’s a direct evolution from Salina to the body standards we have now you know, when I was growing up in the 90s, like the ideal beauty standard that we saw in magazines and movies was like very thin, very, very thin, athletic, you know, very slim. And now it’s really it’s, it’s it’s essentially like Kim Kardashian, right? It’s like very curvy. That is that is what we see in magazines. That is what we see in ads, that is what we see in media. like that is now the ideal American beauty standard And so I really do believe that, that it started with Selena and JLo. The problem with that is that, of course, black women had this body forever, and were derided for having big derrieres. On JLO, it’s desirable, but in black women it wasn’t, it was ridiculed.
So important. And I urge people to listen to that episode, especially. So I want to end by asking you a question that you asked her father. What is your favorite Selena song?
Oh my goodness. So people ask me this all the time. And I have like different categories. So like to dance like just like a fun, like, song that embodies like her joy and like, you know, just how fun she was is like La Carchacha. its just such a fun song. For a song that really embodies like her power as a performer and the way she could emote, like, one of the most amazing things about her is the way she could emote onstage like any feeling, it just felt like she was singing it like from deep within it was like this guttural expression of human feelings. And that’s, that’s hard to find in a performer. And so for that one, it’s No Me Queda Mas, which is also her father’s favorite. and then in terms of, like, the power of her as a pop star, that shows her potential, like what could have been like what she was slated for is definitely “I’m getting used to you.” One of her songs in English that was released posthumously, it just shows like, where she was headed, you know, she was headed to be like Beyonce. Because if you remember Beyonce at the beginning of her career was really guided by and managed by her father, very similar to Selena. and then Beyonce came to her own, you know, and I think we lost Selena, right as she was doing that, right as she was doing that. And, and I think I’m getting used to you, gives us a taste of what, what would have been
such a loss for us and for the world. Maria Garcia, I want to really thank you for being my guest and all inclusive. I urge anyone who’s listening here to find anything for Selena, wherever you find your podcasts. It is a beautiful podcast and is a must to listen to. So thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for such thoughtful questions and it was really great talking to you.
Jay: All About Change is a production of The Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital, Jackie Schwartz, Matt Litman and Mijon Zulu. If you are now in the mood for some Selena tunes, no worries – we have you covered. Jackie, our in house Selena expert, curated a spotify playlist of her favorite Selena songs especially for this episode. we’ll post it in the episode description and on our website.
This was our very first installment under our new name – and we are very excited for all the great stories we have coming your way. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to come back in two weeks for another inspiring story. In the meantime we still have all of our previous content live on our feed and linked on our new website – Allaboutchangepodcast.com
Lastly – If you enjoy our show, please help us spread the word. Tell a friend or family member, or consider writing a review on your favorite podcasting app. That really goes a long way. I’m Jay Ruderman and I’ll catch you next time on “All About Change”.