|The late Jenni Rivera and her now estranged husband, former White Sox Pitcher Esteban Loaiza|
Another young famous person is gone too soon.
With the news of the passing of "La diva de banda" Jenni Rivera sending shock waves through Latin America and across the Spanish speaking community in the United States, I'm no longer an outsider looking in. I am feeling this loss even though I do not listen to banda - the music that Jenni made a household name to most anyone who speaks Spanish in the world. She'd sold close to 20M albums and just released a new one in the last few weeks.
The last time the Latin world mourned someone with such charisma, beauty and potential to cross over into general market stardom was over 17 years ago when Selena Quintanilla Perez left this planet by an assasin's bullet.
I remember seeing the news and not understanding, at all the magnitude of the loss. As the death of any young person always grips me, someone who had to deal with death since a very early age, I could not fathom the blow that the Latin community seemed to take when they lost Selena in 1995. I'd never heard one song. I'd never even remembered seeing her on the Grammy Awards show the year before her death and I was a huge music fan.
After her death, I proceeded to learn all I could about Selena since really my only connection to her at the time of her death was that we were both born in 1971. I read articles, books, anything I could get my hands on in English and in Spanish to learn about this fallen star and why so many people were hurt by her parting.
I did this because of how annoyed and disgusted I was by hearing people say things like - "Who is she?" "Why does this matter?" Of course, every person matters, famous or not -but my goal then was to spread myself outside my world - which at that time really consisted of very little outside "mainstream American culture."
That journey, the spring and summer of 1995 opened my eyes to a rich culture that had been in my life all along growing up in Chicago Heights, IL when the census count was most likely 30% White, 30% Black and 30% Mexican-American. I bet back then that many of the gals I grew up with in da Heights knew and mourned the loss of Selena and vowed that would not happen to me again.
The years that followed saw me do many many things to broaden my culutral horizon including travel to many countries in Europe and Latin America. I became fluent in Spanish because I knew it would help me as I worked for a Major League Soccer team start-up - the Chicago Fire. Mostly teaching myself via telenovelas and Spanish music. Amazing how the universe conspires to change your life when you are ready.
Fast forward to 2012.
LOTS has changed in my life since 1995, most notably, I am Mexican por matrimonio (by marriage). So you can imagine, upon hearing the news of Jenni Rivera's missing plane and subsequent crash that not only did I know who Jenni was - I'd actually seen her show, I Love Jenni on mun2, once or twice. I'd heard her music at a quincenera or even at my home as we flipped though the hundreds of channels on cable TV - a third of which are Spanish speaking in our house.
So what? You may be thinking...
Well not much has changed in 17 years. People are still in the dark about the "Jenni Riveras" of our country. Social media amplifies that now versus then - did you see some of the comments on the CNN stories or on Twitter?
"Who cares? I don't know her"
"Why is this news?"
Those were the most frustrating comments to me. And they were the same comments I heard 17 years ago when Selena was killed. Famous American women not even recognized in our shared country. Yeah, our country. Jenni and Selena were both born here in California and Texas. Both were groundbreaking musical artists who appealed to a huge and growing segment of the US. You could even say that Selena opened the door to Jenni's success. Their contributions to music and beyond were huge and growing each year with both women branching out into fashion and other industries with their unique style and appeal. And because their contribution to our American mosaic is still not quite accepted and valued, these women packaged their talents and sold them to millions of people outside their home country. Nothing is wrong with that, I'd just like to see the day when we can accept that America is evolving and changing and everyone's contributions to that change is valuable. And until our relationship with diversity and differences changes in our country, we will continue to have more to the same behavior towards one another.
I'd love it if the next Selena or Jenni does not have leave these shores to make their fortune.
RIP Jenni Rivera, I'm glad I had the chance to know who you were.