A portrait of the late singer Selena Quintanilla is seen in the crowd following a posthumous star ceremony for Quintanilla on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in Los Angeles.
( AP Photo
Rebecca: Many of us are familiar with the Queen of Tejano music.
That's Selena, the Mexican-American singer who was one of the biggest pop stars in the '90s before being killed in 1995. Now, a new podcast is exploring Selena's legacy. The podcast doesn't just focus on Selena's life, but the way she changed culture and the way we see ethnicity and race especially Latinidad. In one of the latest episodes, the podcast explores how in a recent TV adaptation, Selena is played by actresses who are whiter than she actually was in real life.
This brought the podcast's host to explore her own identity and self-journey with race and ethnicity. With us now is Maria Garcia, creator and host of the podcast Anything For Selena from WBUR and Futuro Studios. Maria, thank you for being here.
Maria Garcia: Rebecca, thank you so much for having me. I love that you started with Si Una Vez. Such is not a basic move. So many interviews I've done start with the expected Como La Flor. Shout out to you for going with Si Una Vez.
Rebecca: Love it, love it. Why did you decide to make a podcast about Selena in 2021?
Maria Garcia: The podcast is really the culmination of my lifelong quest to understand what it was that drew me to this woman that fascinated me about this woman. If I looked back at these different flashpoints in my life these formative moments that came to shape my identity, Selena was there in some form or another. It's my hope that with rigorous journalism, cultural analysis, and just really vulnerable storytelling we can finally do her legacy justice in a way that it hasn't been done.
Rebecca: Maria, in the podcast you discuss how Selena's brownness was an integral part of her legacy. Why is that?
Maria Garcia: Because there were so few visibly brown women, women of visible Indigenous ancestry even on Latin American television in this time. This is the early and mid-nineties where even on Mexican television even on Spanish-speaking programming most of the hosts, most of the actresses, most of the entertainers were white, light-skinned, colored eyes. Selena came along and there were so few entertainers who looked like her. That was just revolutionary and it continues to be.
Rebecca: Let's break down Episode 8 from the podcast it's called Selena and Race. Maria, how did grappling with Selena's race lead you to confront your own identity?
Maria Garcia: When the Selena Netflix series aired, I was deep in a Selena trans. I knew all of the Selena internet conversations. I had been researching it forever but what fascinated me is how much the conversation around her brownness had evolved in the last quarter-century. Frankly, because our articulation of race, the language we have much more nuanced language around race than we did when she died a quarter-century ago as a society.
It was so fascinating to me that there were these claims that she had been whitewashed in the new Netflix series with people in different places in the spectrum. Some saying, "Oh, yes absolutely." This actress who's playing her Christian Serratos is much lighter than she was. Even J-Lo was lighter. It's the gradual whitewashing of Selena. With other people saying, "Selena had Melanin but let's not pretend she was Tonantzin."
The Indigenous deity that the Spanish recast as the Virgin Mary. That got me thinking about how much the legibility, how we read her brownness has changed. It inevitably made me think about how the legibility of my identity, how I am read in the world, how I am perceived, how I am racialized and the way I've thought of my identity, the way it has changed in my lifetime. It made me look inward.
Rebecca: Maria, like so many Latinos, your own family comes in different shades of brown and beige and white. Tell us about your grandmother briefly and how she felt about your light complexion.
Maria Garcia: When I went on this journey about my own identity, one of the things that kept coming up, this memory that I had was this story that I've been told all of my life. It's sort of family law. I think there's a story like this for a lot of white babies that come from Latin American families because colorism is just so prominent, is so strong. I remember the story of my grandmother who clearly had Indigenous and Black ancestry, showing me off at the hospital and telling everybody, "Look I got a white granddaughter. Look at her skin. It is so [crosstalk]"
Maria Garcia: Werita, yes. It was a nickname that stuck with me my whole life. It made me think-- I was already thinking really deeply about my grandmother because I had read that grandmothers are the key, the key to understanding both the trauma and the resilience that runs through your veins because when your mother was in your grandmother's womb, the egg that would come to make you was already inside the fetus so my grandmother is my life source.
What does it mean that I come from a woman whose Black and Indigenous ancestry was never recognized while my whiteness was immediately recognized the second I was born? To me, it means that my family's history is still very much, and I say this in the podcast, tethered to the colonizers' cast system. It's something that I really had to reckon with in this episode all because of Selena.
Rebecca: Maria, in the 30 seconds we have left how are listeners responding to these episodes and how they relate to their own journeys of self-exploration?
Maria Garcia: Oh my gosh, Rebecca, my inbox is flooded, my DMs are flooded especially with women and femmes who say, "I have never heard or consumed anything that reflected my experience like this." That felt like it was made to reflect my experience and I hope that this podcast starts other people on their own journey of self-exploration.
Rebecca: Maria, you say that even though you are a light-skinned Mexican-American woman, you are still othered. Break that down for us because it's much more complicated than the brown white binary, right?
Maria Garcia: Yes. Privilege is not binary. It's not like either you have it or you don't. It's layer. There's different levels of privilege that you may have or you don't all at the same time. For example, my ethnic identity as a Mexican-American, as a first-generation Mexican-American whose experience is rooted in a very working class scene-like, I always grew up thinking that I was not white because growing up on the border, growing up in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, working-class Mexican was oppositional to white.
Again, I had to go back to my family history and the way that they recognized my whiteness. When I was grappling with these things and talking to some of my friends I said I don't think that I'm a woman of color. I don't think that's a term that I should be using for myself because of my skin tone. Some of my friends were like, "Wait a minute but you're not white-white. You're not Anglo-white. You're still othered in this country. What about the time your son with your skin tone was walking around with his father in Boston and somebody called him a Spic. You were depressed and anxious for weeks after. What about the time you were on the bus and somebody said that you were what happened when you overpaid the help."
I can't be in a room with all Anglo-white people especially in Boston and not be othered. I never feel fully like I can let my hair down, like I don't have to code-switch, like I'm completely safe when I'm around white-white people in this country. At the same time my ethnicity as a Mexican-American, does not negate the privileges that my skin tone as a light-skinned woman and now, I'm comfortable saying as a white Mexican have given me. It just doesn't negate that.
Sure, I face discrimination and I have faced discrimination because of my ethnicity. I've also faced privilege and I've also faced favoritism because of my light-skinned. If I look back at the opportunities in my life, I can't ignore the fact that my white skin tone grabs me access to opportunities that are much harder for people with darker skin tones in a white supremacist world regardless of my ethnicity.
Rebecca: I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how these questions of race, in your own life and in the podcast connect more broadly to white supremacy.
Maria Garcia: Well, in Episode 4, when we talk about the cultural lineage from the obsession with Selena's body and particularly Selena's [unintelligible 00:11:00] to today's mainstreaming of the big butt. How did we get there in the last quarter century as a country? How did we do a 180 on butts? Where 25 years ago it was a feature that was derided by the mainstream. There were workout videos to get rid of the big butt, and now it's the opposite.
In that episode, we really pose this idea and we connect the dots through the decades. We break it down for you of how Latinidad, at least this latest iteration of Latino identity in the United States, how it formed, and how it has been used in pop culture as a tool of white supremacy by taking aspects of Black culture. We saw this with J-Lo's ascendance after the Selena movie. She became the vanguard for this new Latino identity and Latino content.
Taking aspects of Black culture and through Latino identity, making them palatable for white audiences, making them appealing to the mainstream, taking out the Black from Black culture and then capitalizing on it. In Episode 4 of the podcast, we set that foundation as Latinidad as a potential tool of white supremacy. Then later on in the podcast in Episode 8, we really break that down and say, "What does white supremacy look like in our families, in our family lines, in our family histories in the way that we racialize each other?" That's how I hope that the podcast addresses that.
Rebecca: Maria Garcia is a creator and host of the podcast, Anything For Selena, from WBUR and Futuro Studios. Maria, thank you so much for joining us.
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