While you were lighting your candles to Selena’s memory this morning to mark the 20th anniversary of her death, it probably did not occur to you that The Nation, in that memorable spring of sadness and sorrow, might have had something to add to the national outpouring of grief and commemoration. Well, think again, because we did. The issue of May 29, 1995, carried an essay, “Selena Aside,” by Mexican-American writer Ana Castillo. The not-so-veiled dig at Kurt Cobain was perhaps gratuitous, but if the editor of The Almanac were to be honest with himself and readers, he would have to admit that the soundtrack to the film Selena was a standard in his CD wallet (ask your parents) long before he knew about Nirvana or had even considered that teen spirit might have a distinctive smell.
For an instant…the time it takes to witness a meteorite streak across the sky—if you’re lucky, if you have the presence of mind to look up at that instant—a talented and vibrant, ambitious and hard-working young performer enchanted her public and gave us the gifts of her many talents. But perhaps her greatest gift was the hope her example gave to thousands of young people who adored her and emulated her style. Unlike the male rock star who, having killed himself, gave his fans a taste of ultimate fatalism, Selena’s life, not death, offered joy to so many who admired her—from field workers to the urban unemployed, poor brown and countless others who elsewise may have given over to despair. Because of her example and because of the ground she broke, although exoticized, relegated to subculture status, perceived as foreign in the country of her birth yet sticking stubbornly to the language of her heart, I am certain that the void she has left will be filled with a new Selena. And we will welcome her. We need her. As all past great civilizations—Greek and Maya alike—adored their self-styled gods and goddesses, their nobility (gods and nobility often being one and the same), we will adore our new Selena, as much or even more than the one that just passed. We won’t, one hopes, dethrone the next one so quickly, so rudely, picking off and disposing of our heroes, our all-too-human deities, like lint off our coat sleeves. Next time, perhaps we won’t feel our craving for our very own homemade goddess’s immortality so urgently that we love her to death.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.