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The Vitruvian Post

Latinas Without Limits

Selena Quintanilla, a Mexican American singer who rose to fame 
in the 90’s.

Selena Quintanilla, a Mexican American singer who rose to fame in the 90’s.

Tatitana Uribe, Assistant Editor

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“I am as Latina as they come. And I am not defined by anybody’s definition of Latina. I don’t actually sit in definition. I walk in my world, happily and confidently,” said prominent Latina actress Gina Rodriguez.

 

One of the main topics of discussion in our country right now surrounds diversity in Hollywood, and the entertainment industry in general. Although we can acknowledge that there is still a huge lack of representation when it comes to Latino driven or focused projects in media, it’s also important for us to celebrate the brilliant work Latino communities have created.

 

Within Latino culture there are certain celebrities and idols who hold special importance as figures that we can look at in the media that actually reflect us and a vast majority of our experiences in this country.

 

Take for example, the Tejano queen Selena Quintanilla, her popularity could greatly be attributed to her excellent voice and stage presence, but the biggest draw for so many of her early fans were her modest beginnings and always humble attitude.

 

Selena was born to Abraham and Marcela Quintanilla in 1971 and was the youngest of three siblings. In her early life her parents owned and operated a Tex-Mex restaurant in their hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas and it is here that Selena and her siblings enjoyed their first live performances together.

 

Eventually, a recession in Texas claimed this restaurant along with the Quintanilla’s home and many of their possessions. Their musical careers began with these significant losses, left without a choice or a place to go the family packed themselves into an old van and began touring Texas as Selena y Los Dinos (the guys). 

Quintanilla and the rest of her band Selena y Los Dinos.

 

Selena not only worked to create powerful, moving music she also helped Latinos in the U.S. come to terms with and learn to celebrate their identities even in the context of their political climate at the time. She made it okay to be both Mexican and American and proud of both of those roots, she made it okay to celebrate your Latino identity even if you couldn’t speak Spanish fluently or your experience in life didn’t seem “Latino enough”.

 

Selena y Los Dinos worked diligently to create a name for themselves in the Texas music scene and even from her earliest performances Selena reached fans in a way that no other Latina had done so well before.

 

Christina Saenz-Alcantara with Latino Rebels, a Latino focused online publication recounted how much Selena’s fame meant to small Latino communities in the early 90’s, “Even though the Houston area was nearly 30% Hispanic or Latino (1990 Census), Selena’s performance was the first time that Tejano music was featured at our local festival. As the opening act, our paper reported that Selena drew more spectators than any previous opening day of the festival.”

 

This meant a lot, especially at this tumultuous time in history for Latinos in the U.S., “Our very invisible status as Latinos in Brazoria County was now on the mainstage and the opening act at our signature local music festival. We did not feel so invisible in our community any longer,” continued Saenz-Alcantara.

 

Celia Cruz is another Latina that has become a cultural icon for the way that she changed the fixed mindsets of many people against her during her larger than life musical career. As a black Latina growing up in Batista-era Cuba, Celia faced personal and systemic racism constantly.

Celia Cruz, a Cuban singer who has become a cultural icon for empowerment.

 

Although she was a natural born singer, with an amazing voice from the start, it took years for her to get recognized or given any opportunities because of her multicultural identity. Once she did get the attention she deserved for her talents she became a symbol of empowerment for Afro-Latinos and exiled Cubans alike.

 

Chicanx and Puerto Rican senior at Da Vinci Communications Breanna David said “Growing up, I never really thought about how important it was to has representation of my ethnicity in media. I had never really thought about it until about middle school where I was more hyperaware of my place in American society.”

 

“I always saw Latina women playing maids or being the “sexy sidekick” but never in any role that didn’t rely on a stereotype,” said David of the frustrating roles Latinas have often been pigeonholed into.

 

However, Breanna makes it clear that we are witnessing a positive change in mainstream media for Latinos, “As a latinx artist, I can feel the industry opening up and allowing more diversity in, but I still feel like we have a long way to go. But I do feel like I have a lot of inspirations out there, especially when I have platforms like Instagram where I could easily learn about them.”

 

Icons like Celia, Selena, and countless other strong, successful Latinas are important to our communities because they give us a shared sense of belonging in a place that often times, creates legislation whose only real purpose seems to be to disrupt our lives and physically separate us from the bonds we have built in this country.

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