Located just a few miles outside of Seaside Memorial Park where Selena is buried, the "Mirador de la Flor" is a life-size bronze statue in honor of the late Tejano singer. (Wikimedia Commons)

Resurrecting the Legacy of Selena


A version of this story ran in the June 2015 issue.

If only Selena were here. I keep wondering what the world would look like, what Texas might feel like, if the superstar singer had lived beyond her 23 years. Who might she have grown up to become if a deranged fan had not shot and killed her 20 years ago?

When I imagine a present-day Selena, I see the star power packed in her smile, the feminine power in her hips, and I hear the love in her songs. But mostly, when I envision a 44-year-old Selena, I think of Selena the public servant. The Selena who carried a stay-in school message to Texas schoolchildren would be an emerging grande dame whose legendary stature would send desperately needed tremors through the state Capitol. I smile at the thought of Selena wielding her undeniable charm as she urges Texas Democrats not to forsake their constituency while reminding them that for decades Texans have asked their elected leaders to do one simple thing: Educate our children.

Selena, beloved by countless fans to this day, could explain to politicians what it means to be a public servant. She would tell them that true power and the stuff of legend draw from the public, and that greatness is achieved by serving people, not special interests.

Selena also knew success involved taking risks and the courage to stay true to values. If Selena were alive, I imagine her applauding another South Texas native daughter, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), for casting the lone vote against the Senate version of the state budget that would do so little to fund public education. Texas ranks 46th in the country in per-student spending, according to the National Education Association. Actually, Garcia said on the Senate floor, the Senate budget would offer nothing more than “a little, teeny-tiny step” toward expanding pre-kindergarten, while sending millions of dollars in additional spending into the black hole of border security. Selena, who was raised in Corpus Christi, would best be able to explain how border security zealotry threatens a functioning democracy. The public money spent in the name of border security has transformed the South Texas that was the cradle of her stardom into a heavily policed region of drones, helicopters and every sort of law enforcement agent imaginable, at the cost of transparency. Would a politically minded Selena join in efforts by some Texas pols to wrest from the Texas Department of Public Safety hard evidence about what all of the state spending has actually accomplished? State Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) have sought to obtain information from federal and state officials about the effects of public spending on the state’s border surges.

You may think that my imaginary Selena is a bit far-fetched. But folks, it’s no less believable than the comment by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) to this magazine about her bill that would strip local communities of their power to regulate or ban the highly controversial practice of fracking. “I think that fracking is a safe mechanism, which they can use to be able to extract oil,” Thompson said.

It may take the superhero Selena to return from the dead to somehow convince politicians about the damage and risks to air and water of unregulated fracking. Evidently, countless reports and individual cases don’t seem to matter. The Center for Public Integrity produced a chilling portrait in a report last year, titled “Big Oil, Bad Air,” that described the state’s inability or unwillingness to monitor existing laws and regulate air pollution.

Like Selena herself, my imaginary Selena draws from the best of her fans. In life and death, she personified the hard-working, principled, loyal people who adored her. Her message about the power of education to create new opportunities was not simply some cause that she embraced on a whim. She knew that education offers opportunities so that people don’t have to choose between polluting their air and water and feeding their family. I have to admit that I’m saddling my imaginary Selena with a job that is nothing less than saving our democracy and fighting for our future. But, like democracy itself, Selena’s legend is built on an inimitable and enduring spirit. It’s that unique spirit that offers life after death, which is why she is alive in our hearts. If we could somehow harness that spirit, we could get our elected officials to hear our voices and remember our priorities. Maybe we could begin by taking a Selena concert to Austin. That, they will have to listen to.