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Podcasts Servant of Pod with Nick Quah
Anything For Selena

Selena Quintanilla is a cultural icon for many, but for Maria Garcia, she's much more than that. For Maria, who was raised in El Paso, Texas, and lived and worked on the border for years, Selena was a figure that helped her — and many other young girls and women like her — find a place in a world where they didn't feel like they belonged. This week, Nick speaks with Maria about Anything for Selena, her new series from WBUR and Futuro Studios, which revisits the legacy of Selena, with an ear to trying to unpack how, exactly, she changed culture.

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Servant of Pod – Anything for Selena

Thu, 3/11 4:36PM • 27:46

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

selena, laughter, latino, episode, life, story, border, mexican immigrants, world, identity, latinos, grew, died, culture, moment, personal, ascend, bottom, nick, talk

SPEAKERS

Jennifer Lopez, Abraham Quintanilla, Unknown, Howard Stern, Maria Garcia, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Quivers, Nick Quah, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Fred Norris

Nick Quah 00:00

As a person moving through the world and experiencing culture, I only have sort of a very mild understanding of Selena--as an icon, as a creator, as an artist, as a celebrity--and so, when I listened to the early episodes, in many ways that was my first introduction to Selena the figure--the historical figure, almost.

Nick Quah 00:08

I mean, it is... I have a lot of questions, and I also, to be...

Maria Garcia 00:22

Yeah. That's exciting!

Maria Garcia 00:26

I feel so honored to be, like, your Selena doula! [Laughter]

Nick Quah 00:37

Maria Garcia is the senior arts and culture editor at the public radio station WBUR in Boston. But for the last year, she's taken on a different role and challenge: podcast host--and yes, my Selena doula. From LAist Studios, this is Servant of Pod. I'm Nick Quah.

Nick Quah 01:04

This week: Maria Garcia's radically personal podcast, Anything for Selena, a love letter to la reina--the queen--Selena Quintanilla.

Nick Quah 01:29

Okay, Maria, how would you describe Anything for Selena?

Maria Garcia 01:33

Yeah. So I know we're talking to a podcast audience, so let me... [Laughter] Let me put it in terms of... let me put it in podcast language. So, Anything for Selena, how I like to describe it to folks, it's like if Dolly Parton's America and California Love had a baby. It has the rigorous journalism and the cultural analysis of Dolly Parton's America, with what I hope is the intimacy, and the heart, and the personal journey and personal connection to a place or people, that California Love has. And so Anything for Selena is a culmination of, truly, my lifelong quest to understand why Selena, why this working-class woman, has meant so much to me all of my life. Why has her being resonated with me so much? She's been this touchstone in my life that I come back to when I need to feel grounded. And I don't think I'm alone. And I don't think her legacy has been done justice. There's a lot of Selena stuff out there, there's a lot of Selena content, but there's nothing that really unpacks how she changed culture, what she's responsible for, the cultural shifts that she's responsible for. And so this has the cultural analysis of that, but it's also just a love letter from me to Selena, it is personal. It's my heart, in a podcast. [Laughter] That's what it is, Nick!

Nick Quah 03:29

So, building on that, what did she mean to the culture? And what does she mean to you?

Maria Garcia 03:37

I discovered Selena when I was 7 years old. I was growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border. I spent my early life in Mexico on the weekends and in the States during the week, and so I really came into consciousness very aware--hyper-aware--of the duality within me. And it felt like these two parts of myself were divorced from each other. Whatever side of the border I was on, it felt like the other half of me was missing. I feel like I learned to read at the same time that I learned to code switch on either side of the border. And then, at such a formidable age, when I was sort of discovering my identity, I discovered Selena. And it was the very first time that I saw somebody who resembled my community, who resembled my family, who resembled those of us who were in the middle. That I saw somebody like that ascend in American society, and ascend in a way that was still connected to her roots, ascend without compromise, and that was incredibly moving for me, and it stayed with me. I was 9 when she died, 11 when the movie came out, and throughout all of my life, and these different milestones, I've come to realize now, as a 35-year-old, that Selena has been there all along, whether it was the last time I danced with my father, it was to a Selena song, before he died. When I was in graduate school and I needed some motivation, I would listen to Selena, and I realized that there were all these milestones in my life where she was there. And then, now, as an arts and culture editor and critic, putting on my journalism hat and thinking about Selena not just from my heart, but as a journalist, and thinking, I'm not alone. This is a collective experience. This was a cultural phenomenon. There is now a whole generation of people who have come of age, like me, who have experienced these moments with Selena. And I want to get to the bottom of why--why she's so resonant now, as resonant as she was a quarter-century ago.

Nick Quah 06:18

I want to unpack that personal side a little more. So what I'm hearing is that she's sort of this symbol of that bridge that many non-white Americans have in this country, of being of the two worlds and not being part of either. I feel, for Asian-Americans, that that person was Bruce Lee, right? This person who was like, you don't really have to compromise that much.

Maria Garcia 06:43

So when I discovered Selena, this was in the mid-90s, and I like to call it sort of "the age of assimilation," at least in in my lifetime, and I went to a predominantly Latino school--again, I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border--but there was a hierarchy that rewarded only the most assimilated of kids. And so I grew up thinking that it was imperative for me to assimilate, frankly, to just get through life. And Selena helped change that. But as an adult, I've come to realize these traumas, or these wounds, that forced assimilation creates in you, they don't just dissipate. They stay with you, and they inform the career paths you take, and they inform the relationships you build. And so coming back to this project has been like a personal reckoning for me, to think about my own place in the world, and to think about my own identity.

Nick Quah 08:00

So this show is really like a part memoir, part reported story. Was that always the plan?

Maria Garcia 08:06

So I knew that I wanted it to be rooted in the personal, that the only way I could tell the story authentically is if I told it from my lens in the world. In my regular job, I always tell young reporters: do not abandon the lens from which you're looking at the world. There is no such thing as coming to a story from no place at all. Everybody looks at the story they're working on from the place in the world that they occupy. And so I knew that I had to bring the personal, the authentic--and I don't take over the story, but I'm definitely with you on this journey, or you're with me on this journey. And then I knew that I wanted it to be meaty. You know what I mean? Because this is a story everybody knows... I mean, I don't mean to exclude you, Nick. [Laughter]

Nick Quah 09:10

I mean, I grew up in a whole other country. So like, totally fair. [Laughter]

Maria Garcia 09:14

But this is a story that has been told so many times, so I wanted to do sort of an anthology. And so it is a story, it does have sort of a beginning, middle and an end, but each episode really takes a deep dive into different topics, different stories, that are all connected together throughout the series. But, for example, episode 4 is about the mainstreaming of big butts and big butt culture. And it's about my theory that there's a direct historical lineage from Selena to the big butt culture of today, 25 years later, and it's a deep look at how we went, as a country, in a quarter-century, from aversion to big butts to obsession with big butts.

===Excerpt: Anything for Selena, Episode 4: “Big Butt Politics”===

===Excerpt: Unknown===

Unknown 10:06

Jennifer Lopez turned the fashion world on its ear with a bottom that shot her straight to

the top.

===Excerpt: The 1999 VMAs===

Chris Rock 10:11

She came with two limos: one for her, one for her ass. That's right. [Laughter]

===Excerpt: 2014 Associated Press Interview===

Jennifer Lopez 10:15

It's just our time, women with the big booty.

======

Maria Garcia 10:20

But there was at least one TV personality who wasn't that impressed.

===Excerpt, The Oprah Winfrey Show, unknown episode, 1999===

Oprah Winfrey 10:26

There's all this talk about... My girlfriend Gayle--I didn't even know this--but my girlfriend

Gayle and I talk online, she goes...

Jennifer Lopez 10:31

Yeah.

Oprah Winfrey 10:31

"You know, people are always talking about her bottom.”

======

Maria Garcia 10:34

This, of course, is Oprah, on her show in 1999.

======

Oprah Winfrey 10:38

She goes, "Well, honey, tell her that if she wants to see a bottom, I'll show her my

bottom." [Laughter] "Now that's a bottom." Everybody always says, "She has a big

bottom," you just have a bottom that's in proportion.

Jennifer Lopez 10:48

Yeah.

Oprah Winfrey 10:49

To yourself.

Jennifer Lopez 10:49

Yeah, I have a large rear, I guess, for the norm, but for me, it's normal, 'cause I grew up

in The Bronx.

Oprah Winfrey 10:55

Well, what norm? No. Because Black women have this bottom all our lives.

Jennifer Lopez 11:00

Exactly! And Latin women are the same way!

===========

Maria Garcia 11:01

And it may sound trivial, but what that episode showed me is that butt politics, body politics, is ultimately a story of fetishizing Black features, obsessing over Black features, while dehumanizing Black people. And that episode is about the fraught relationship between Latinidad and Blackness, through the lens of Selena.

Nick Quah 11:33

So these are really sensitive, emotional topics that you're tackling here. Do you feel anxious about any of it? And how do you work through stuff like that?

Maria Garcia 11:45

Oh, my goodness. Well, let me tell you, the episode after that, after episode 4, is an even deeper dive into race, and Latinidad, and brownness, and Latinos reckoning with their own whiteness, and it's told from a very personal, personal lens. It's terrifying. It's terrifying. I have moments where I'm like, why do I do this? Why did I choose this? [Laughter] Why am I writing? You know, why am I? And so honestly, Nick, it's been kind of excruciating, because all of my life, I realized just how much I compartmentalized my work from my internal life--and all of us do that to an extent, right? But I realized how much I did it at the cost of not confronting pain, and drowning myself in work to sort of not confront these very personal, emotional battles that were going on inside of me. And this project forced me to do that. Because again, my heart could not not be here. And episode 2, for example, is about meeting Selena's father and really going deep into their relationship, and their dynamic, and, you know, he's been portrayed as a sort of exacting, controlling, demanding, short-fuse machista guy, and her as a playful, but nonetheless docile, daughter. And it's more complicated than that.

===Excerpt: Anything for Selena, Episode 2: “Selena and Abraham"===

Maria Garcia 13:27

Abraham admits he was a stringent, calculating father to his big-hearted daughter.

Maria Garcia 13:35

And Selena was so warm.

Abraham Quintanilla 13:37

Yeah, but see, I was always correcting her, don't do that. Be careful here. Don't spend too much

time talking to this guy. You know, things like that. So I don't think that would be controlling.

That's giving my kids guidance.

======

Maria Garcia 13:59

And when I was reporting it, I couldn't not think about my own father, who died in a tragic accident a year before I started this project, and I had just sort of drowned myself in work after his passing. And then when I was reporting on the story and spending time with Abraham, and talking to Abraham, I couldn't not deal with my own personal pain because I was thinking a lot and writing about Latino fatherhood, and about the relationship of Latino daughters and Latino fathers, and about the stereotypes and the narratives we tell ourselves about those relationships. And this podcast has given me the gift--the gift--of navigating my own pain, navigating these very scary questions about my own identity, and yeah, no, it's horrifying. But I'm here, it's a gift. And somebody once told me like, "What you're scared to write about, what makes you the most scared to confront, that's what you should be writing." And so this is my attempt at that.

Nick Quah 15:23

So why is Selena still relevant 25 years after her death? More in a minute.

Nick Quah 15:47

Okay, so Maria, can you tell me a little bit more about how Selena went from being a celebrity into becoming an icon?

Maria Garcia 15:56

She was like, beta Latin boom, you know? We're talking about 1994, 1995, right before she died, when she was essentially ascending to Latino royalty. She won the Grammy. Think about where we were as a country in 1995. It was right in the middle of a huge demographic shift. The Latino population grew by 60% between 1990 and 2000, so '95 was right in the middle of it. There were palpable, and very obvious, anxieties around immigrants, and specifically Mexican immigrants. If Latinos were not being erased, they were being portrayed as gang members, or lost dropouts, or teenage moms. And then here comes Selena just flipping that narrative around. So before she even died, whether she wanted to be or not, the world immediately appropriated her as a symbol for an ascending Latino identity, for saying, look, Latinos can do this, Latinos can be themselves, Latinos can be joyful, Latinos can succeed in the United States. And then when she died, that was amplified astronomically. Because suddenly--and think about, at the time, where we were in terms of media, right? Think about the OJ Simpson trial, this was sort of the beginning of the precursors of reality TV in the 90s. And so suddenly, her death was a top story in English networks and in Spanish networks--incredibly anomalous for the time.

Nick Quah 17:57

Sort of like a shared experience between the Latino community and the broader white American communities, basically.

Maria Garcia 18:04

Yeah, and so I don't want to give it all away, but... [Laughter] In the podcast, we argue that Selena--her image, her likeness--has become this shorthand for an entire American experience, for Latino identity. She has become one of the most potent symbols of belonging in this country. And so we argue that Selena has come to represent Latinidad: what it looks like, what it sounds like to be Latino, and that's great. On the other hand, it has its limitations, and it excludes people. And so we unpack Latinidad, the most modern iteration of Latino identity, from the 90s until now, for the last quarter-century, and we talk about how Selena came to form that identity, and what that identity represents--who it represents now, and who it doesn't.

Nick Quah 19:05

Yeah. Why do you think that Selena broke through the way that she did?

Maria Garcia 19:09

Oh, my gosh, there are so many reasons, Nick. [Laughter]

Nick Quah 19:12

Alright, well, let's try to bottle it in a five-minute answer. [Laughter]

Maria Garcia 19:17

One, I think she was a true artist. Look, her talent and her discipline as a musician, as an artist who cared about her craft, who was meticulous about her craft; that is the main reason. We're here still talking about her because she had such a stage presence. I mean, she commanded an audience. She had the charisma that really only very, very, very few of us have. And so I think that there was just a natural effervescence, and a natural talent, and she was a disciplined musician, and all of that came across on stage. But then, also, I think it's also because there was a hunger at the time, and there still is. That's why, 25 years later, we are still so attached to her, because there is a hunger to see Latino joy, Latino effervescence--and in her case, brown pride, brown joy--there is a hunger to see that because there's not enough of it.

Nick Quah 20:31

I want to ask about a specific scene in the third episode. And it's a sort of that friction that has stuck with me the most, that sequence where Howard Stern is glibly responding to Selena's death, right? And there's this sort of moment where he's being an asshole about it. And I feel like in that sequence, in that moment, in that interaction, the entirety of white/non-white relations in America was sort of bottled into that, which is that the fight is just like, understand where we're coming from. Right? Just see us. And this sort of harsh refusal to do that. I'm curious as to why you decided to attend to that moment, Howard Stern as the avatar of that kind of friction in that episode. But also, do you think that relationship between white and non-white culture has changed at all since that moment in the 90s?

Maria Garcia 21:37

It's interesting. I did not know about this Howard Stern tape until we started doing the reporting and the research for the podcast. I was 9 years old, the the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and so Howard Stern was not in my world. And then when I heard the tape, as a grown woman, when I heard him talk about this woman whom I have been loving, who has become a sort of cultural deity, who has become this way home for so many of us, this sacred symbol, when I heard him talk about her the way he did, it was so cutting.

===Excerpt: The Howard Stern Show, April 3rd, 1995===

Howard Stern 22:25

"Let's dance to happy Madonna-like music. Let's dance and forget the people starving to death."

Fred Norris 22:34

"It's a spicy [indecipherable]."

Howard Stern 22:36

"It's a spicy..." [Laughter]

Robin Quivers 22:37

"Let's burn our [indecipherable] with these peppers."

Howard Stern 22:44

Absolutely no feeling whatsoever.

======

Maria Garcia 22:48

You know, it felt like these old wounds. These old wounds opened up, and the reason that we hung that episode on that confrontation is because, to me, that was so illustrative of all of the tensions in the 90s that I was just talking about. It all boiled down, it all manifested, in this horrible, crass radio fight. And it's like all of these feelings among Mexican immigrants, and Mexican-Americans, and the white mainstream, can pretty much be be unpacked in that conversation. As you said, it is Mexican-Americans just saying like, "Hey, we're here and you're hurting us. We're here. Let us mourn. Let us be human." And it's the other side saying--to me, at least, what I hear when I hear that tape--is them saying, "But you're not human." Or at least, "You don't deserve the right to mourn," the right to be, as humans do. And I talk about this in the episode, this was particularly difficult for me because it made me think so much of the women in Juárez, being from the border, the women in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, who disappeared, many of them who worked for American corporations, in factories of American corporations across the border in Mexico, and how the world just did not seem to care about their deaths. And Selena! Selena was on the other side of the border, Selena had been afforded a whole new life, but at the end of the day, there was this disregard--the same disregard--for her life, too. And I don't think we've changed all that much. I chose...

Nick Quah 24:58

I kind of figured that that's what you were going to say.

Maria Garcia 25:00

Yeah! I chose that moment because if you hear it, you're like, "Oh, this sounds like a conversation that that can happen today."

Nick Quah 25:08

So the show debuted two weeks ago, and you're going to be dealing with weekly drops for the next few months, but once the show wraps, what's the first thing you're gonna do?

Maria Garcia 25:18

Um, I think I'm going to go like, hide somewhere. [Laughter] I've been wanting to go to Joshua Tree--Selena recorded one of her last videos there, "Amor Prohibido"--and I think I'm just gonna disconnect a little bit, and look inward, and take a rest. I think that's what I'm going to do. And probably cry a lot. [Laughter] Because I'm sure there will still be some residual feelings. But, yeah. And if I could just say, I don't think we talk enough about gratitude, and I just want to say, I will be so grateful. I think I already am. I'm just so grateful that I get this opportunity to tell her story, to write her this ode, and to explore myself in the process. And that's the gift. That's the gift of creative work, and I'm so thankful for it. And so, yeah, I think I'll do a lot of gratitude crying.

Nick Quah 26:38

Well, I hope you get to go to Joshua Tree and cry a lot on the way. Thank you so much for taking time talk to me. I really appreciate it.

Maria Garcia 26:46

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

Nick Quah 27:01

Servant of Pod is written and hosted by me, Nick Quah. You can check out more episodes at laist.com/servantofpod. The show is produced by Andrea Asuaje, James Trout, and John Perotti at Rococo Punch. Web design by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio. Logo and branding by Leo G. Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo G. Servant of Pod is a production of LAist Studios.

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.