Today marks twenty years since singer Selena passed away. Though I was only four years old at the time, I remember it vividly. I had been a fan of Selena since my father first played her cassettes for me on the way to preschool. I loved the sound of her music, but even more I loved the natural music of the Spanish language. In an effort to learn what Selena was singing, I began to eavesdrop on conversations between my teacher’s aid and Miguel, a boy in my class who only spoke Spanish. I remember gleefully relaying to my father the translation of the phrase, “siéntese aquí.” This meant “sit here” and was the first Spanish phrase I learned. Because Miquel was a rambunctious boy, many of the phrases I picked up were disciplinary in nature—“that’s enough,” “stand still,” “be good.” Still, I was content just to learn.
When I heard on the news that Selena had been shot, I couldn’t process what had happened. It was my first experience with death, let alone murder. Being a sensitive child, it affected me deeply. My brother and sister didn’t fully understand why. I kept going over it again and again in my head. How could someone just take another person’s life? I kept telling myself that it had to be a mistake. The news had to be wrong. I ran into the bathroom to cry but instead became overwhelmed with anger at her murderer. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror and feeling that something inside me had changed. But at that age, I couldn't place the emotion.
Eventually I came to terms with her passing and continued to listen to her music. My dad even bought me a Selena T-shirt, which I wore with pride. Years later when my father’s car was stolen and abandoned in a field, the first thing I worried about were the Selena cassettes. Had they been stolen too? Thankfully they were not, and I still have them to this day. Selena ignited in me a love for languages, something that has stayed with me all these years. To some she was just a singer, but to me she was an inspiration.