Dancing with Selena, memories of childhood, and pepperoni pizza

by Estefania Zavala on September 15, 2015 in Cultura

Three hours into Selena night at the Regent in downtown Los Angeles, Bidi Bidi Bom Bom starts playing.

I feel this deep, animal sense of belonging.

This is my song and I need to be on stage. I claw my way up to the stage and slip in a puddle of what is maybe human sweat.

The hands of my fellow Selena enthusiasts pull me up.

We do what we came here to do: we dance.

Five hours before the Selena/Club 90’s night at the Regent, I stand in front of my closet, cursing my lack of velvet bodysuits or jean vests and engulfed in the anxiety of someone who is about to disappoint her biggest hero.

Why have I spent so much time buying sensible pencil skirts, when I could have been buying a bedazzled train conductor hat? When I finally get dressed in an outfit based specifically on Selena’s Bidi Bidi Bom Bom music video, I am hit by a wave of anxiety that this outfit is not good enough to honor Selena.

In a pathetic and deranged way, I feel like my entire life has been leading up to this night. Like I have to honor my seven-year-old self, who grew up spending her hard-earned quarters at the jukebox in the neighborhood Pizza Hut so that she could hear Bidi Bidi Bom Bom while enjoying her pepperoni mini-pizza.

Haphazardly, I apply green eyeshadow to my face and head out the door.

The Facebook event says that the night is the Regent’s second Selena night. The first one was held in April, to celebrate Selena Quintanilla’s birthday. This one is being held on September 11th and has no discernible reason or motive. Two thousand people have RSVP’d.   The Regent's Facebook event page photo

If you don’t know who Selena Quintanilla is then I can only assume it is by sheer force of will.

The iconic queen of Tex-Mex sang songs in the early ‘90’s that are still incredibly popular.

She was young and English was her first language—she learned Spanish phonetically from her dad because she thought that she should sing songs that connected to her heritage.

To me and to other young Chican@s growing up in pocho neighborhoods in the U.S, Selena was the closest we ever got to a pop star that looked and sounded like us (in terms of language, not singing ability).

She was murdered brutally at the height of her stardom by a twisted mega-fan and since then has lived on as a legendary icon.

I excitedly text one of my friends where I am going later that night. He writes back: “I thought Selena was dead???”

I stop writing back to him. People should understand that she will never really die.

My friends and I meet up in Koreatown and take a Lyft to the Regent. We are all varying degrees of drunk, having pre-gamed extensively. Our Lyft driver is a charming Mexican lady named Maria, who tells us candidly about her many jobs and her dreams for her sons. She wants her sons to study hard so they can go to college and be successful in this country.

My friend Irvin leans over to me in the car and whispers the exact question on my mind: “Is the driver…is the Lyft driver my mom?”

I say nothing. I am horrified that Maria will suspect how drunk we all are and express her disappointment. There are just so many people to not disappoint.

The event begins at 10 PM and we arrive at 10:02. The line to get in the club stretches down the block and wraps around a corner. It looks as though more than 2000 have shown up.

I ask a skinny, harmless-looking boy, “Is this the line for the Selena night?”

“Uhhhh, of course,” He answers and he is right to sass me. All down the line are dark-haired girls with copious amounts of red lipstick and eyeliner.

A lot of belly buttons are on display.

Everyone looks excited and tough, like they Regent's Selena Event Flierwould not hesitate to elbow you in the face to get into the club. There are a lot of rhinestones. It could only be Selena night.

We join the line and I think about the 22,000 girls who showed up to audition for Jennifer Lopez’s role in the Selena movie. I should be grateful that more people didn’t show up.

In the line, my friend mentions very casually that she was almost named after Selena but that her mom was able to talk her dad out of it. Her name is Celene.

All night, small moments like these remind me of the immense power that Selena has had on everyone’s life.

In some ways, because we were so young when she died (I was 2), her existence is deified and omnipresent. We honor her in the way we dress and in the arches of our eyebrows. Like the Lyft driver named Maria with her Mexican accent, Selena reminds us of our childhood and our mothers. She is both our madre and our baby girl. She reminds us to work hard and make something of ourselves.

When we finally get into the club, it is jam-packed and roughly 120 degrees inside. The song playing is Tu, Solo Tu, a sad, ranchera  song. It’s definitely not one of Selena’s most popular songs, but everyone is singing along solemnly. They know all the words.

I feel in tune with this crowd. I am experiencing a rare instance of total cultural identification, a great big Chicano kumbaya. I feel very ethnic.

A guy dancing next to me asks me where I’m from. He asks me my name. I smile at him and I do not stop shouting along to La Carcacha. The only thought in my head is: don’t fucking ruin this for me. He moves away from me.

At the end of the night, my friends come together and Como la Flor starts playing.

Everyone in the crowd freaks out and screams. I think: this is not even the real Selena, not even an impersonator; it’s just a DJ projecting a YouTube video on a stage.

Then I stop thinking and start singing along with everyone else. I feel like a lot of people are crying but it’s hard to tell because everyone is so sweaty. I might be crying.

I feel strangely purified and after all this, still cannot fully explain the immense power Selena has over us.

Maybe my seven-year-old self, eating a tiny pizza and bobbing her head to a happy tune, could have explained it better.


Photos courtesy of The Regent’s Facebook event page. 

Previous post:

Next post: