Editors’ note: As we approach our fiftieth anniversary, in February 2023, we will, every week, highlight an important story from our past and offer some perspective on it.

Texas Monthly has published many stories on the tejano legend Selena over the years, starting with a 1994 piece that ended, “A million Selena fans can’t be wrong,” which was quickly followed by a 1995 article recounting the star’s murder at the hands of Yolanda Saldívar, the president of Selena’s fan club.

But the writer who has the most Selena stories under her byline (as of 2023) is Cat Cardenas. A former Texas Monthly intern who later worked as a staff writer from 2019 to 2022, Cardenas mined her lifelong fandom and took every opportunity to write about the singer: when Texas made April 16 “Selena Day”; when Forever 21 launched a Selena clothing collection; when the McNay Art Museum, in San Antonio, opened a photo exhibit of Selena; when a professor started teaching a course on Selena; when Netflix streamed a two-part Selena miniseries; and when fans marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death. You get the idea.

Perhaps the greatest of these stories is her 2021 essay “Selena, Role Model,” part of an anniversary cover package to mark what would have been the singer’s fiftieth birthday. “I was born in 1996, a year after Selena’s death and a year into her sainthood,” Cardenas wrote. “I don’t remember who first told me about her or when I listened to her music for the first time, but it felt like she was always there, playing in the background while my family members and I browsed the aisles of the Handy Andy supermarket and during drives with my tías and tíos. For a few years, I had no idea where she was from or what had happened to her.”

As Cardenas got older, of course, she learned the whole history. Selena had become someone who inspired Cardenas to go for bolder looks and practice songs in choir rooms. Selena was a natural role model because she had died at age 23, “frozen in amber on the precipice of superstardom,” before she had time to make the inevitable mistakes of adulthood.  

But rather than celebrate that perceived perfection, Cardenas argues that Selena’s idealized image is actually her fans’ great loss: “Selena never got the chance to disappoint us. But if she had lived long enough, she surely would have. And we would have had to struggle to love her. Which is a different kind of love, and maybe a better one.”