The headset mike à la Madonna was already standard gadgetry. Yet there was the wholesome girl-next-door as well. You caught a second glimpse when you were a fly, invisible, a less-than-minor presence at the Tejano Music awards in San Antonio. Starry-eyed, you roamed the floor at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center with a stolen pint of tequila in your breast pocket, a filmless camera and a press credential wrangled as a result of your stint with ARRIBA.
Selena reigned supreme. Kids from your neighborhood who entered the downtown campus of Richard Halpin's Creative Rapid Learning Center were making noise. They were young toughs who rarely spoke Spanish, favoring Tupac or Snoop Doggy Dog as the adolescent musical idiom of choice.
John Gonzales attended your writing workshop and became an actor through the Cultural Warriors program sponsored by the American Institute for Learning-Creative Rapid Learning Center. Working to get his G.E.D., he spent afternoons at his father's hole-in-the-wall bar on East Sixth, two and a half blocks from I-35. "Have you heard the new Selena?" he would ask. "It's a cumbia. We have it in the CD jukebox at my dad's bar. Check it out, G." You were excited to hear a homeboy suddenly taking an interest in the Spanish language, singing along to her lyrics. Selena was making it cool to be Chicano, or Mexican, or Hispanic or Latino or just plain brown.
From San Antonio to South Texas, Selena was massive, her fame virtually entrenched after taking most of the important categories several years running at the annual Tejano Music Awards. Sponsorships, product endorsements... as a print media mole, you noticed those things, wondered when your own little rag would score a major ad featuring la reina de la onda. It came up in conversations with your publisher, one Romeo Rodriguez, a Tejano music aficionado from the get-go, an Edinburg émigré and personal friend to the legendary Little Joe.
"We drink a lot of Coca-Cola," Romeo said. "And we've given her a lot of coverage."
Of course, there was the banter, the jokes which bordered on poor taste, most having to do with Selena's derriere and her well-proportioned thighs. There was no malice. You never initiated the suggestive humor but then you didn't try to stop it, either. Face it, she was fine. And in a room full of boys who recognized her incredible beauty, talent and power, political correctness was out the window in a minute. Beaucoups of macho sexism sneaking in.
In January of 1995, you began the internal exile which took you to the Mexican border, a barrier Selena was erasing daily. Her music transcended the Texas-Mexico divide. Matamoros and Brownsville were two stops on her performance itinerary.
In late March, you spoke with Ixchel Rosal in Austin. "Did your hear the news? They shot Selena," she informed you.
Wow. Just like that. A flurry of rumors. Emilio's wife... jealousy... desperate love triangles. Silly stuff, mostly. The South Texas skies were appropriately overcast. You work as a stringer for the Brownsville Herald because you're low on cash. Music and entertaiment are your beat, unsurprisingly.
"You're the man," says Rey Guevara, city editor. "Show us what you got."
You talk to fellow journalist Ramiro Burr in San Antonio and Rudy Trevino, the man behind the Tejano Music Awards. No one knows why. Phones and faxes bemoan the loss -- a flower cut down in her prime. You say as much in your first piece and gauge the hearts and minds among the border folk who've taken you in. These are people who feed you with stories of how it all began, before electricity, amplifiers, speakers or microphones -- Tex-Mex music before it became the industry rage.
Tejano has come light years beyond all that and Selena was a linchpin. Your front page column is part of a farewell package. The Herald is sold out by 9pm the next day.
A trip to the public funeral services on the Corpus Christi bayfront is hollow, somehow disappointing. Your first dateline story wired in from the Corpus daily. You've taken a ponderous cruise though the Molina neighborhood, gathered atmosphere and information for a few more stories. You're being paid and feel the tweak, a twinge of self-doubt.
Are you a profiteer? Were you ever a serious Tejano fan or did you fall into it by default, the token music dude, exploiting a genetic connection to the sound, making the most of your youth in Austin on the periphery of a major music scene.
The outpouring of sentiment and the sense of tragedy are overwhelming. Too much. You're getting letters from inmates at Huntsville State penitentiary requesting copies of the issue where your words appeared. Talk about community validation. Man. It makes you feel like you belong. Like you're a part of something huge. A rush.
Over in Matamoros, a posthumous tribute is organized on the site where Selena once staged a Toys for Tots concert. You skip across the Rio Grande and lose yourself in a crowd of thousands. Here are Mexicans honoring a Tejana. Whoa. You pen another column.
Same thing happens when Joe Nick Patoski asks you to work as a research assistant on the Selena biography he's writing for Little & Brown. It's a gig. It pays. Here it is, months after the fact, and you begin to wonder if maybe you aren't milking the whole sad affair. No. You're cool. Patoski goes to the source. He's a real writer who knows music. A pro.
In the end, you don't work as hard on the collaboration as you would have liked. But the experience is still rewarding. Pocketing a little coin, you're ready to move on. There's a book of your own to be written someday.
And admit it, opening up a beautiful hard-cover book to find your name listed on the acknowledgements page isn't bad, lends itself to a little justifiable pride. If anything, it makes you feel like you actually can say something worth reading. And maybe that someday book really isn't so far away, after all.
-- Abel Salas