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20 Years After Selena's Death, Disagreement Over Her Legacy In Corpus Christi

Scott Squires
Fans of Selena gather in Corpus Christi to remember the Tejano singer's legacy.

It’s been more than 20 years since the singer Selena was fatally shot, and the Latino community was devastated by the loss of the Queen of Tejano Music.

An article in the September issue of Texas Monthly explores how Selena’s legacy lives on in Corpus Christi. But not everyone in Corpus, or its visitor’s bureau, agrees with how the piece portrays the city.

Texas Public Radio’s Virginia Alvino has the writer’s perspective.

Selena Quintanilla Perez, or just Selena, is one of the most influential Latina artists of all-time, and credited with bringing Tejano music into the mainstream. At least in Texas.

“I didn’t really know her until I came to Texas a few years ago, being a white boy from Arkansas and previous places,” says Jeff Winkler, writer-at-large for Texas Monthly. For his recent article entitledAmor Prohibido, he went down to Corpus Christi to meet the Quintanilla family, including Selena’s sister and father, who manage the music studio that also houses the Selena museum.

“They own her name, they legally own Selena," says Winkler. "They’ve owned it since she was alive I believe. They want to keep Selena’s name alive, they want to keep that brand out there, and they want everyone as possible to experience it. The backside of that is that people want to appropriate how they view Selena and how they celebrate Selena in their own way, and those ideas sort of clash.” 

That clash is evident in two very distinct Selena celebrations. The first Winkler visited was organized by fans. Winkler says it was a community affair. 

The unofficial celebration has been held on the anniversary of Selena’s death for the past 20 years. Fans and drag impersonators sing Selena karaoke, dance, visit Selena’s grave. The Quintanilla family found the event disrespectful. They worked with the city to give fans another option on the anniversary of Selena’s birthday.

“The CVB [Convention and Visitors Bureau] and the Quintanilla family decided to make it very official," says Winkler, "and have gates, tickets that cost a little bit of money, food trucks that you get to stand in line for. Everything was coordinated and comodified I guess. It was just sort of night and day between those two.” 

In the article, Jeff Winkler cites books that claim the city of Corpus Christi has a history of keeping its Latino community second tier, and that after Selena’s death, non-Latino people were disrespectful, asking why the singer was such a big deal. 

Texas Monthly’s Editor-in-Chief Brian Sweeney says part of the fact checking process includes working with the subjects, in this case the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“We did go directly through them," says Sweeney, "and they were well aware of the material that was in the story.” 

Sweeney says the CVB did express concern about the content before it was published. The article likens Corpus to Cuba, and hints at racial insensitivity within the organization.

As a result, CVB decided to end their significant advertising partnership with the publication. Sweeney says although that’s unfortunate, there needs to be a firewall between journalism, and the business it takes to support it.

“I think our readers want to know that whatever story we’re writing, whatever topic we’re taking on, we’re absolutely confident from an editorial standpoint that we are going to be fair, and sometimes tough," says Sweeney. "And we are not going to make decisions to do a story or to not do a story based on any sort of financial consideration” 

As far as writer Jeff Winkler is concerned, he may have liked the community celebration better, but is glad the city of Corpus Christi celebrates Latino herigate.

"I mean you have this really amazing culture, focused around music a lot of it," says Winkler. "If they can find a way to promote it, absolutely, that’s fantastic.”

But he thinks it can be done more authentically.

There’s still sort of an attempt to do it in its most appeasing way possible," says Winkler. "Like having tequila day. Not that bad, but you have Day of the Dead, you paint up your face, well there’s a bit more to it. Like Selena was more than just a Tejano star. She was very important to a lot of people, and still is.”

The Corpus Christi Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was unable to be reached for comment.

Virginia joined Texas Public Radio in September, 2015. Prior to hosting and producing Fronteras for TPR, she worked at WBOI in Indiana to report on often overlooked stories in the community. Virginia began her reporting career at the Statehouse in Salem, OR, and has reported for the Northwest News Network and Oregon Public Broadcasting.