On Tuesday, it’ll be twenty years since the death of Selena Quintanilla Perez. Her influence on pop culture continues to loom large: Katy Perry still talks about Selena’s performance on the Grammys and the impact it had on her as a child, and Drake posted a photo on Instagram last month of himself in a Selena T-shirt. (Drake was eight years old when Selena was killed.) Solange Knowles covered “I Could Fall in Love” on her 2013-2014 tour, and last year rapper King Louie dropped a single called “Till I Meet Selena.” There’s plenty to say about Selena, and one thing we can all recognize is that even two decades after her death, Selena still matters.
That makes her a compelling subject not just for other musicians and artists but in the larger context of popular culture—which is probably why there’s a field of study devoted to Selena’s work and influence.
Writing for Fusion, Jorge Rivas offers a brief portrait of three professors who have PhDs in Selena:
About a dozen scholars have published essays on the late singer in peer-reviewed journals.
In fact, some PhDs have dedicated portions of their career to unpacking the cultural influence of the late star, who gained crossover success in the early 1990s and was immortalized by Jennifer Lopez in the 1997 film Selena.
Those professors—Dr. Deborah R. Vargas of the University of California–Riverside, Dr. Deborah Paredez of the University of Texas, and Dr. José E. Limón of Notre Dame—all focus on a variety of facets of Selena’s career/persona/influence/impact.
Vargas, for example, has published “Selena: Sounding a Transnational Latina/o Queer Imaginary” and “Cruzando Frontejas: Remapping Selena’s Tejano Music Crossover,” papers that explore the way Selena has been embraced by gay culture. Rivas notes that Vargas’s work discusses the “bustiers covered in rhinestones, silver spandex pants, bright colors and multiple accessories” that Selena wore, and why they helped turn her into the sort of diva that managed to attract a sizable gay audience.
Paredez published her collection Selenidad in 2009, through Duke University Press. That book explores the public mourning that occurred throughout the Latino community alongside her death, and the eventual political and cultural movement that accompanied that mourning. Limón’s work, meanwhile, seems to walk in the spaces between Paredez’s and Vargas’s, exploring both the way Selena’s style reached people in cultures of sexual repression and how her rise (and death) coincided with the rise of Latinos as a political force in Texas.
(Photograph via Instagram)