In 1995 I was 27 years old, and making regular trips to Aguascalientes, Mexico for my job.
I really enjoyed Mexico. And Aguascalientes was a wonderful place in those heady post-NAFTA days.
While I was in Mexico, I often heard the music of an American—Tejano— singer, Selena Quintanilla Perez (mostly known by her first name, Selena).
Selena’s songs were on FM radio in the United States a lot, too. Pop with a Latin flair. Not bad. But there was another reason why I remembered Selena.
At that time, I was constantly, obsessively studying Spanish. I had studied the language for two years in high school and one year in college. I spent hours going over my homemade Spanish vocabulary flashcards, and my dog-eared Spanish grammar book.
I like languages, and mastering Spanish became a point of pride for me.
I recall hearing that Selena was sometimes criticized because her Spanish…wasn’t that fluent, even though she was Mexican American. Some of her lyrics were in Spanish, but she apparently struggled to speak the language when interviewed by the Spanish-language press.
I also recall wondering, sometimes, if my Spanish was better than Selena’s yet. (I’m competitive that way; silly, I know.)
Then on March 30, 1995 (I was coming back from Mexico that day, as chance would have it), I heard an announcement on the news. Selena, age 23, had been murdered by an older woman who was the manager of her fan club.
I never knew Selena, obviously; and it has never been my habit to closely identify with celebrities. Selena’s death, tragic though it was, did not profoundly sadden me. But I did remember the event, and it did make me reflect on my own mortality. At 52 I am acutely aware that life doesn’t go on forever; but at 27—not so much.
It isn’t only the old who die. Sometimes it is the young and up-and-coming, those who seem to have their entire lives ahead of them. Until something unexpected happens.
And all of us in between, of course. Life is short, and we need to make the most of every day.
Selena, dead at the age of 23 on this day in 1995. Que descanse en paz.