Arts Entertainments

Selena: a life remembered (part 1)

Selena Quintanilla-Perez, now an icon of dominant Texan and Latino culture, Texas and pop culture, was born on April 16, 1971 to Abraham (II) and Marcella Quintanilla at the Freeport Community Hospital, outside their Lake Jackson’s hometown, a small town in Texas. 23,000 community, 75 miles from Houston. At the time of Selena’s birth, the Quintanillas had two other children, Abraham (AB) III, 8, and Suzette, 4.

Initially, when Marcella began experiencing pregnancy symptoms, a doctor misdiagnosed her and stated that she had a tumor that needed to be removed. Only after the Quintanillas asked for a second opinion did they receive an accurate diagnosis.

Upon learning of the pregnancy, both parents chose “Marc Antony” as their baby’s name, convinced that they were going to have a boy. Later, when Marcella gave birth to a healthy 5-pound baby girl, “Selena” was chosen at the suggestion of her hospital roommate.

At the time of Selena’s birth, Abraham worked in the shipping department of Dow Chemical, the anchor company in his community with a great passion for music. Previously, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he and some friends had formed a band “Los Dinos” and played a mix of rock ‘n’ roll and traditional Mexican songs in nightclubs and restaurants in Corpus Christi. . However, due to limited opportunities, Abraham had to leave the band when he got married and took a job at Dow Chemical to support his family. Although he resigned from the band, Abraham’s passion for music did not die. Consequently, he taught his children to play an instrument at a young age. AB III learned the bass and Suzette the drums.

When Selena was three years old, Abraham spent many hours working with AB III and Suzette. Feeling left out, Selena confronted her father, demanding to know why she couldn’t learn to play an instrument. When told that she was too young, Selena decided to sing.

Before long, Abraham became convinced that Selena had a special talent. He was especially influenced by her sheer determination. Abraham’s belief increased even further when one day Selena, who was only 5 years old at the time, approached him and began to sing with purity and perfect pitch while strumming her guitar. His interpretation of a song sung by the Little Anthony and the Imperials on the radio it was amazing.

“I always wanted to go back to the music business, but I felt like I was too old and my children were growing up,” Selena’s father later reflected in an interview. “When I discovered that Selena could sing, that’s when the wheels began to turn in my mind. I saw the opportunity to return to the world of music through my children.”[1]

A year later, Abraham was convinced that Selena was destined to be a star, especially since she shared his passion for music and her voice had a special quality. “… She had that extra thing that makes her an artist. Of course, no one believed me at the time,” she recalled.[2]

Then, with Marcella’s blessing, Abraham turned the family garage into a soundproof study. He bought a drum kit and got a used bass from a friend. Later, he taught Selena to sing in Spanish. At first he sang using phonetics, but progressed rapidly until he was able to sing flawlessly with emotion.

Before she was taught to sing in Spanish, English had been Selena’s first and only language. However, afterwards, when she was able to sing perfectly in Spanish, Selena still found it difficult to converse fluently in that language. His thinking was slow and his choice of words awkward. As a result, Selena relied on her effervescent personality, beaming smile, and performers to get by with interviews in Spanish. Due to Selena’s laughter at her own mistakes, the Spanish media overlooked her difficulties.

Before Selena enrolled in an intensive Spanish course to gain proficiency, her parents were terrified at the prospect of their daughter confronting more than 30 Mexican reporters at a press conference in Monterrey, Mexico, coordinated by EMI Mexico. Afterward, although Selena’s responses sounded ridiculous, she had won the hearts of all journalists by hugging them. As a result, they kindly wrote about her, declaring that she was a “people’s artist.”[3] However, in December 1994, Selena was fluent in the Spanish language.

Once everyone had mastered their musical duties – AB III on bass, Suzette on drums, and 9-year-old Selena on singing – Abraham formed a family band called “Selena Y Los Dinos.” Then they practiced almost every night.

At first, Selena was the only one who enjoyed rehearsals; AB III and Suzette preferred to play with their friends. Later, however, all the Quintanilla children got into music. Before long they were creating extemporaneous compositions.

When Selena attended Oran M. Roberts Elementary School, she tried to excel and participate in everything. She “put a lot of effort into everything she was doing and was eager to learn, the kind of student you always love to have,” recalls Selena’s first-grade teacher, Nina McGlashan.[4]

As a child, Selena was optimistic with a big smile and constantly cheerful. She was also outgoing and athletic with a gift for bringing others together on the playground. Her classmates loved her very much and she excelled in several of the class games – she ran faster and jumped more than most.

Although athletic, Selena also enjoyed playing with dolls. She liked working with their hair and dressing them in custom outfits that she made, a prelude to her dream of opening a boutique. Even the one time Selena seriously burned a doll’s hair while using a curling iron, it didn’t stop her.

In addition, Selena exercised maturity and respect when in the company of adults, always addressing them with “Yes / No sir / ma’am.” Although she got into mischief from time to time, Selena, with her strict upbringing in a well-disciplined family that cared for each other, knew when to behave and be polite.

In the summer of 1980, Abraham Quintanilla resigned from his job at Dow Chemical and opened Papa Gayo’s, a family restaurant that offered quality food and live entertainment. In an attempt to be successful, Abraham invested all of his life savings and everyone came together to help.

Papa Gayo’s also gave “Selena y Los Dinos” their first real public exposure, as they frequently performed in front of customers during the evenings. Selena became an instant favorite. One customer commented: “It was so unusual. You wouldn’t expect to see a kid get up and sing in a restaurant like that … she was always very enthusiastic.”[5] Soon, all the clients shared Abraham’s belief that Selena was destined for stardom.

Initially, during their performances at Papa Gayo’s, “Selena Y Los Dinos” sang versions of the top 40 current hits in English and occasional old pop songs with Spanish lyrics that Abraham had written. Yet just as things were about to take off, the 1980-81 recession struck and forced the shutdown of many oil wells, the lifeblood of Texas. With people out of work, Papa Gayo’s along with the other companies lost many customers. With mounting debts and little hope of recovery, Abraham was forced to close the restaurant and move the family back to Corpus Christi.

Yet despite his desperation, Abraham never gave up. He continued to believe in Selena’s talent and did everything he could to help her. Music became Quintanilla’s sole source of income, as “Selena y Los Dinos” traveled to various clubs and restaurants and performed at weddings and other special occasions. During those times, even if each made only $ 5 or $ 10, they were happy that they could eat and go shopping.

Little by little, her hard work and determination began to pay off. “Selena Y Los Dinos” recorded their first album, “My First Recordings” in 1984 under the Freddie Records label. However, apart from some radio play of the song “Ya Se Va”, “My First Recordings” did not do very well and was not released until 11 years later, when Abraham bought the rights.

Although during the “My First Recordings” recording sessions, Selena needed fewer cuts than many, Freddie Records felt she needed more time to develop. Abraham rejected this and moved the band first to Cara Records and then to Manny Label.

~ Continued in Part 2 ~


[1] Rick Mitchell. Corpus Christi Caller Times Interactive Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[2] Rick Mitchell. Corpus Christi Caller Times Interactive Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[3] Joe Nick Patoski. Selena: Like The Flower. (Boulevard Books: New York, 1996) 124.

[4] Clint Richmond. Selena! The phenomenal life and tragic death of the queen of Tejano music. (Pocket Books: New York, 1995) 24.

[5] Rick Mitchell. Corpus Christi Caller Times Interactive Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

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