Tuesday, March 23, 2010

St. Selena, TX

In this month's issue of Texas Monthly, the Mike Leach vs. Texas Tech scandal is just a smattering of text on the cover. The rest of the design is an iconic-style portrait of Selena Quintanilla Perez, who is perhaps the patron saint of Texas. And undoubtedly the Queen of Tejano Music, as the article claims.

It also says that even when she broke attendance records with her final performance in the Astrodome at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, she was virtually unknown to white audiences. I can't say this is true for myself. But maybe I had an edge because I lived in the same town where she was born and attended the same elementary school she did. Unfair advantages, to be sure.

I still remember when she was killed. Murdered, rather, by her own friend. I was in junior high, eleven years old. The hallways were very somber and lots of students were even in tears. A large percentage of the students at my school were Latino and many of my best friends were Latino. They grew up speaking Spanish, unlike Selena herself, and loved her music. Her English cross-overs "Dreaming of You" and "I Could Fall in Love" were anthems at school dances for years after.

Fifteen years later, her songs take me back to Texas, to my schools where whites and Latinos sit side by side in class rooms and at lunch tables. They share a culture if they choose to. I can't see that here in California. Maybe I'm missing it. But it seems like everyone stays away from each other.

Issues like immigration law and teaching Spanish in schools are controversial. Almost too controversial to talk about--depending on who you're talking to and what side of the fence you're on. I can't help thinking we're all in this together. Nothing proves that more than Selena's popularity during her lifetime and her legacy after her death.

She is/was both/and. Both Texan and Latino, an icon to Spanish-speaking peoples on both sides of the border. Yet she was neither: self-conscious about her Spanish in Mexico, American as apple pie. Can I not claim Selena as part of my culture because I'm white? Some would say so.

The Kentuckian grew up in a predominantly black community in northern Kentucky. Granted, even today, a well-to-do black real estate agent drives his Hummer with trepidation in to rural communities in this part of the world. But the Kent was surrounded by the African-American culture of the South. Played side by side with them in basketball games. They were his friends. They became men together. A regular Larry Bird. He is white with black influences to be sure. Is it any less real because he isn't black?

We're so focused on lines and boundaries and rules. I decide what defines my culture, don't I? Selena was born on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We are the same. My people came from Europe. Hers came from Mexico. But we are both Texans.

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