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An interview with Selina Herrera

Selina Herrera lives in the Rio Grande Valley and is a community activist around immigration issues and reproductive justice. I met Selina at a music festival that Downtown Boys played in McAllen, Texas. She immediately spotted my Selena shirt and said, “anything for Selenas!” We spent the night confronting bros in the pit and bringing more people that needed to be in the front to the front. Selena told me how that people in the Rio Grande Valley, often referred to at the RGV, find Selena very intergenerational and see her as a bridge between Mexico and the United States. Selina and her sister Sam explained how you cannot get out of the RGV without passing a check point, which means many undocumented people who have been forced to come to the United States for economic survival are stuck in the RGV. Selina is also known as Guacaflaca and we are so happy that we can come together in this interview. – Victoria Ruiz

What is it like being named after Selena?
It’s great, is it cliché to say “It’s an honor to be named after one of your inspirations!”? Because that is really what it feels like, well for me. It’s also a fun conversation starter! I meet someone new and their initial reaction is either “Anything for Salinasss!” or they start singing their choice Selena song which I almost always sing along to as well. Sometimes people will start doing “the washing machine”, one of Selena’s signature dance moves. It’s always in good fun. I would’ve been named Savannah but my father came to the conclusion that it would be difficult for my Spanish speaking family to pronounce; hence, making ‘Savannah’ sound like “sabana”, Spanish for bedsheet. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my Dad for not naming me after a bedsheet. Firme. The only downside is I didn’t get the double ‘e’ in the spelling of the name.

When I met you, I heard that you had won a Selena look-alike contest. Please tell us more!?
Yes, it was for a local Selena themed Get Out the Vote event which was hosted by the local TFN (Texas Freedom Network) Chapter. I had no idea I would win. I spent the night before the event walking around a store, where I found just what I needed: white jeggings, a white bra, and white beads and heavy duty glue to transform the bra into a bustier. All for $20! I was very nervous because part of the contest was that I had to sing and I’ve never sang in front of people before. I believe I sang “Dreaming of You” if I remember correctly, my friends sang along so it was less nerve-racking.

What is it like being from the same geographic region as Selena?
She is a Tejana who still continues to have such a grand influence outside of South Texas. It’s awesome. In her music, the culture of the South Texas region is all there. This is the area where I grew up listening to rancheras, corridos, cumbias, and Tejano music which are a few of the categories fused into the music of Selena y Los Dinos. She has left a significant impact in our communities serving not only as an inspiration but as a symbol of recognition to those of us who don’t have many Chicana role models to influence us like Selena has. There are still many restaurants and businesses in the Rio Grande Valley that have a framed picture of Selena as soon as you walk in. There are references to the Rio Grande Valley in her music so there’s that sort of mutual respect in her music that is reflected on the amount of respect her fans have for her.

What is Selena's influence on how you think about bodies and power?
Selena has definitely had an influence on different generations and I think that’s where power ties in. To have such an impact on such a wide range of people who hold a sincere respect for her. A true legacy who continues to be admired by many. The few I’ve heard criticize her image have only ever been white men that claim “Selena used her sexuality to sell more”, “To build a bigger fanbase”. Wrong. To say such a thing would imply that she was sexualizing herself all for profit. Selena was a very humbled autonomous young Woman and in a male-dominated industry, specifically Tejano music, to see a front woman who is selling more records than you, a male, even post mortem the argument will continue to be about how her look was sexual solely for the benefit of bringing in more revenue rather than accepting the empowerment of femininity. Selena went about starting her own business, her own fashion line, becoming her own which is who she was, the great entertainer we know as Selena Quintanilla.

Selena has influenced my thoughts on bodily autonomy and power through her performance, in the way she carried herself in her dance, the strength in her voice is empowering. The combination of the two serve as an example of power in voice and body.

Why was there a Selena look alike contest at the fundraiser? What was that like?
I’m not sure why exactly but it was for fun and surely enough it was! I met other Selena look-a-likes and we danced and took a few selfies throughout the night.

Are there Selena themed cultural moments in the RGV? Selena karaoke, etc?

Absolutely! As aforementioned there are many local businesses, that pay homage to the late and great artist, that have a Selena framed photograph up on the wall or places like Suerte Bar in McAllen that have a drink named after Selena that is served in a glittery purple hourglass-shaped glass, appears similarly to her famous purple outfit. This is the location that hosts Selena-themed events with karaoke, merch tables, and costume contests. Here in the Valley, you’ll be sure to hear a car at a stoplight blasting “Amor Prohibido” on any given day or, if not, walk into your favorite panaderia and they’ll probably be playing “Techno Cumbia” (this happened to a few friends and I earlier this month). There’s an old restaurant building here in Edinburg that has been closed for years but still standing is the sign that reads “Taqueria Selena."

What is your favorite Selena song?
This is always the toughest question to answer! I’d have to go with “Disco Medley” from the Selena LIVE! The Last Concert album, everything about that song from her voice to the transitions in between the songs where the band delivers 1000%. That entire album deserves annual awards for the rest of forever.

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