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On March 31, 1995, trailblazing Mexican American Tejano musician Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was shot to death by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar. She was 23.
The loss shook the music world and the Chicano community at large. Over two decades later, Selena still is an internationally celebrated cultural icon.
Tribute concerts continue to be staged in her honor around the world, along with a host of documentaries, public works of art and museum exhibits.
An event organized by Arizona State University's School of Transborder Studies, in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, this week honored the singer’s legacy on April 16, what would have been her 48th birthday.
“Selena was an extremely creative individual who made the crossover from music to fashion, acting and speaking before almost anyone else,” said Monica De La Torre, an assistant professor in the school. “I think her death cemented that in a tragic but beautiful way that seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year.”
Students, faculty and staff gathered for Celebración de Selena on the Tempe campus, where a photo booth, lotería games and other Selena-themed activities took place as her music played in the background.
De La Torre, whose research and classes focus on how Mexican Americans are portrayed in popular culture, said having the event in an academic setting serves to recognize Chicana/o cultural contributions at a time that feels more important than ever.
“I never would have imagined being at a Selena event on campus when I was an undergrad, so it’s actually a radical idea,” she said. “Particularly at a time when Latinos and Mexicans are being vilified, I think having these public events to celebrate our cultural contributions serve to counter that idea.”
For Tara Sperry, a freshman who attended the event, Selena’s music played a pivotal role in her interest in both the Spanish language and Latino culture.
“As someone who grew up in a family that doesn’t speak Spanish, she was really my first introduction to the language,” said Sperry, now a double major in Spanish literature at The College’s School of International Letters and Cultures and secondary education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “I came here to help celebrate that.”