- Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory
A DVD-recording of Selena performing to a disco beat in a sparkling, skin-tight purple pantsuit; passages scrawled on a memorial wall in Corpus Christi, Texas; a queer tribute to Selena with an intergenerational Latina/o audience: each scene reveals how and why Selena matters. Selena Quintanilla Pérez was a superstar in Tejano music—a US-based, predominantly Spanish-language musical genre dominated by men. Although Selena "reinvented" (11) the genre and conquered the Latina/o music market with her fabulous voice, fashions, and dancing body, English-language audiences had only begun to hear (of) her when she was murdered in 1995 at the age of 23 by the president of her fan club. Latinas/os, especially Mexican Americans from Texas (Tejanas/os), deeply mourned her loss, while the mainstream media puzzled over this outpouring of grief. Selena's death marked a new era for Latinas/ os in the US imagination: identified as a largely untapped US market, Latinas/os and their communal mourning were deemed commercial, if derisively "excessive" (15). In this impressive book, Deborah Paredez coins the term "Selenidad" to chronicle and analyze the many ways that Latinas/os have creatively and critically used the memory of Selena to negotiate their contradictory status as invisible and hypervisible subjects of the United States.
Selenidad is not about Selena, but rather about "what it means to remember her" (xi). The book's introduction historicizes the process of her canonization as a Latina icon by framing Selena's legacy for the uninitiated, identifying the 1990s as a critical cultural moment for Latina/o visibility in the United States, and outlining the book's key concepts. Chapter 1, "Soundtracks of Selenidad: 'Disco Medley' and 'Como la Flor'" explores Selena's landmark performance one month before her murder, during Tejano Night at the 1995 rodeo in Houston. The recorded concert exemplifies Selena's performance style—an intricate fusion of working-class, Tejano, and pop sensibilities. Here, Paredez masterfully analyzes the performance of two songs: the sorrowful "Como la Flor" shows Selena self-consciously letting us in on the act with a playful pause and smile, while "Disco Medley" emphasizes the disco beat. Paredez argues that Selena's style and her use of disco diversify and queer the heteronormative traditions of Tejana/o and rodeo culture. By dancing solo between stage and audience, growling gay anthems popularized by black female singers, channeling sorrow through the Latin American music style known as cumbia, and strategically addressing the audience in both Spanish and English, Selena's fabulously unruly body sustains her legacy and firmly anchors Selenidad.
Chapters 2 and 3 address Selenidad in relation to national belonging. The exemplary essay "Colonial Past, Tejano Present: Civic Maintenance at Selena's Memorial" examines Selena's memorial in Corpus Christi as a site of civic renegotiation between the city's Latina/o and Anglo American communities. Highlighting the "racial and political economic tensions" (94) at work in the erection and maintenance of Selena's hometown monument, Paredez investigates Corpus Christi's segregated history and its investment in a fabricated Spanish-cowboy past. By leaving informal messages of grief and celebration on and near the memorial, the city's Latinas/ os become "misbehaving spectator[s]" (94) whose demands to be seen reclaim the memorial and mark their (long-effaced) civic presence. [End Page 696]
In "Selena Forever, Latino Futures," Paredez compares the production practices of, and audience responses to, a musical biography about Selena with the media hysteria surrounding Latina/o population growth during the 2000 US census. After premiering in San Antonio, Selena Forever traveled throughout Texas and to Chicago, but was canceled halfway through its tour. While this abrupt end has been blamed on the predominantly Latina/o audience's purported unreliability, Paredez demonstrates that Selena Forever was plagued by poor production and marketing decisions from the start. Heeding Jill Dolan's call to "explor[e] theatre studies as 'an ethnography, while avoiding the imperialist gesture of...