Who Was Selena?
On a hot day in 1993, tens of thousands of fans packed an outdoor arena in Monterrey, Mexico. The band onstage played its opening songs and the crowd began to push forward. They wanted to get closer to the person they came to see: a young singer from Texas who was known simply by her first name—Selena.
As the music played on, some fans shoved each other to get a better look. Others tried to climb onstage. The situation was getting dangerous. Selena’s father yelled from backstage to get out of there now! He didn’t want the crowd to hurt his daughter. Selena and her band stopped playing and ran to the wings—the sides of the stage—for safety.
Once backstage, the band tried to find a way out of the arena. There was only one exit and the crowd was blocking it. Selena’s father came up with a plan. He thought that if he spoke to the crowd, he could convince them to stop. He ran onstage and asked them to calm down. But this made the audience even louder. People started throwing cans and bottles. They were there to see Selena, not her father!
Selena understood their frustration. She told the band that she was going back onstage. She had just learned to speak Spanish and was determined to talk to the crowd herself. Everyone told her not to. They feared she could get hurt. But Selena never did what anyone expected. She trusted that her fans would listen to her.
Selena stepped back on the stage as the fans shoved and shouted. Smiling and calm, she spoke into the microphone, asking them to cálmese, por favor
. Calm down, please.
Thousands of fans suddenly stopped pushing to listen to the twenty-two-year-old star. The band was amazed. One by one, they came back onstage and picked up their instruments. Then, Selena began to sing. Her voice filled the air and the crowd sang along to their favorite songs. The concert was a huge success.
Selena’s understanding of her fans saved the show from disaster. It also helped her become the passionate musician that the world came to love. Chapter 1: Texas Girl
Selena Quintanilla (say: KIN-tah-NEE-ya) was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas. It was a sunny and warm Friday in the spring. Her parents were Marcella and Abraham Jr., whom everyone called Abe. She had an older brother named Abraham III, or A.B. for short, and an older sister named Suzette. The Quintanilla family was Mexican American. Their ancestors had immigrated to the United States from Mexico to search for work and a better future.
Life was hard in Texas for people with Mexican roots, or Mexicanos
(say: MEH-hee-KAH-nohs). It had been that way for over a hundred years. Before the Mexican-American War began in 1846, South Texas had been a part of Mexico. People there were free to celebrate their heritage, which combined Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish cultures.
But in 1848, the United States took control of the land above the Rio Grande. Mexicans in Texas now found themselves in American territory. White Americans, or Anglos
(say: ANG-lohs), did not want them there. And Mexico itself was now divided. Southern Mexicans distanced themselves from Texas-Mexicans in the north, whom they called Tejanos
(say: teh-HA-nohs), the Spanish word for Texan.
Even though they had been living on the land for generations, Tejanos faced a lot of prejudice. Abe had seen it himself as a boy in Texas. When he was in school, he was sent to the principal’s office and hit for speaking Spanish. Some Anglos even put signs on their stores that read no mexicans. And the city of Corpus Christi even went so far as to “code” their citizens by language and color.
There were not many Mexicans in Lake Jackson. Marcella and Abe did not want their children to feel the unfair treatment that they had experienced growing up. It was important to them that Selena, Suzette, and A.B. fit in with their white neighbors and the Anglo children. Marcella and Abe taught their children to speak English instead of Spanish. Even Selena’s name was pronounced the Anglo way: “Seh-LEE-nah” instead of “Seh-LEH-nah.”
Selena, Suzette, and A.B. loved growing up in Texas. The family had a home in a nice neighborhood and they had many friends. A flowering pink mimosa tree bloomed in their yard. Locals called the area “Snake Jackson” because it was so hot and green—it reminded them of the jungle.
The Quintanillas were Jehovah’s Witnesses. This meant that the family spent many afternoons walking door-to-door preaching in their town. Everyone loved Abe, Marcella, and their three well-behaved children.
Growing up, Selena was an adventurous tomboy. She played kickball outside and caught fireflies at night. She challenged boys to races and usually won. If someone dared Selena to do something, she would do it. Though she was small, Selena was never one to back down from a challenge or a dare. One time at school, a friend dared Selena to flip her skirt over her head. Just as she did it, a teacher caught her in the act. Selena was completely embarrassed!
The teachers and students at O.M. Roberts Elementary School loved Selena. She was very polite, got good grades, and was always smiling. She even kept a good attitude when she had to skip other kids’ birthday parties or holiday celebrations. Her religion didn’t celebrate these things.
At home, Abe filled the days with music. It was important that his children share his passion. When Abe was young, he had been in a band called Los Dinos (say: lohs DEE-nohs). The band had been very successful in South Texas. But it wasn’t successful enough
. Abe had to leave the band behind to work in a factory, and sometimes drive a truck. He had to earn enough money to take care of his family.
Teaching music was a way to pass his dreams down to his children. For Abe, it wasn’t a hobby. It was required. When he taught A.B. to play the bass, they would practice for hours. Selena would get jealous and sing her father’s favorite songs to get his attention. Her voice was strong and beautiful. Abe felt she was destined to become famous.
Abe saw that his children were talented enough to form a family band. A.B. played bass while Selena sang. Suzette played drums even though she hated them. She thought drums were for boys.
The band practiced almost every day in the garage. Abe taught the kids gospel and rock ’n’ roll songs that he had known since his own childhood. Selena, Suzette, and A.B. practiced more modern dance music that they heard on the radio.
The family played well together. Over time, the band became better and better. Abe signed them up to perform all over Texas. They played at small clubs and restaurants in Houston. They were the opening act for a band called La Mafia. They even won two hundred dollars at a county fair!
Selena was still only eight years old and shy around strangers. But singing gave her confidence. Audiences couldn’t believe such a beautiful voice came from someone so small. This little Texas girl was something special.
Copyright © 2018 by Max Bisantz & Kate Bisantz. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.