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Campus gallery shares memories of Selena

Selena Quintanilla performs on stage with her family band, Selena y Los Dinos. 

Selena Quintanilla performs on stage with her family band, Selena y Los Dinos. 

Sitting in The Wittliff Collections in San Marcos, Texas, snapshots and memorabilia of the beloved singer and performer Selena Quintanilla are on display. Visitors of the gallery can witness the Queen of Tejano Music, a global icon with superstar charisma and grace, in its newest collection, the La Avenida gallery, during Hispanic Heritage Month.
A young woman who lived the American dream until her death in 1995, Selena Quintanilla is remembered through her music, her style and the photos that encapsulate her smile forever in time.
Hector Saldaña, the Texas music curator for The Wittliff, noticed how students and visitors were drawn to photos of Selena on display in previous galleries. Since she is well known for her iconic look and for capturing the hearts of many Americans, especially Mexican Americans, Saldaña said Selena is as much of an icon as Marilyn Monroe or James Dean.
“Selena is one of those artists that is a true icon, but an icon that stayed close to home here in Texas,” Saldaña said. “She showed the world that someone that looks like us can make it big.”
Al Rendon, Selena’s photographer from 1992 until her death in 1995, recounted many memories he had with the Tejano star, sharing captured moments of live concerts, her with family and even promotional photos for Coca-Cola. His photos have been featured in publications like People and Newsweek as well as in the Smithsonian Institution.
Rendon got to share some of his photos with The Wittliff after connecting with Saldaña right before Hispanic Heritage Month began. This inspired Saldaña to get in touch with Rendon and create a Selena display on a large scale. Several other photos of Selena from photographers Ramón Hernández and John Dyer.
Saldaña wanted to know if Rendon had a photo that had yet to be seen in the public eye. Saldaña was in luck.
“I wanted to know if [Rendon] had anything that hadn’t been seen,” Saldaña said. “This photo has never been seen, never been published and had yet to be on display until today.”
Although many photos taken by Rendon are on display for visitors, it is the picture of a young Selena that he found while searching through his photos that is grabbing attention. This is the first time the photo has been published or on display.
The photo is of a time before Selena became a household name when she performed with her family band, Selena y Los Dinos. The photograph shows a young Selena dancing onstage. Rendon believes it was taken in the early 1990s in San Antonio. He remembers being in awe of the young performer.
“I was immediately drawn in awe with how well the band’s music sounded and Selena’s performance overall,” Rendon said. “You can just tell when someone has it, and I knew she was going to be big.”
Rendon began asking Selena’s record company, EMI Latin, to let him photograph her next album cover, which he ultimately did not get. However, after the record company rejected the original photographer’s shots, Rendon got the call to step up to the plate and shoot the cover of her third studio album “Entre a Mi Mundo.”
“I had been waiting for this opportunity,” Rendon said. “I felt like we had a great working relationship, and I gave her the freedom to do her thing.”
In the three years Rendon got to work with Selena, he gave her total freedom to pose, dress and act in the photoshoots. Unlike the control that the record company and other photographers had on the singer, Rendon captured what Selena wanted. He would get calls from Selena’s family wanting his photography after rejecting photos of Selena from other photographers who did not make the cut.
“That made me feel really good because she was obviously not feeling that these other photographers [were] capturing the real her,” Rendon said. “She knew when I’d work with her, I would present her more naturally the way she is.”
This was evident in the Coca-Cola advertising photos that Rendon took in 1994, photos that are on display in the La Avenida gallery. The photo shoot did not start with her dolled up in her outfits. Rendon said he wanted it to be a slow progression toward flashy fashion. He first wanted to capture the natural and carefree Selena; the Selena that fans loved. Eventually, Rendon photographed the Tejano star in her iconic looks, Coke bottle in hand.
“Her real self came out of the photos I would take of her,” Rendon said. “They weren’t manipulated to look like someone she wasn’t, which I think she appreciated about me as a photographer.”
This would be Rendon’s last photo session with Selena before her death.
The news of Selena’s passing shattered the lives of everyone who knew and admired her. It left family, friends and fans wondering what would have been of the Queen of Tejano Music and the obsession of the icon. From film to makeup, Selena’s impact on the world is evident 27 years after her death.
Miguel Guzman, a mariachi educator at Texas State’s school of music, remembered how somber it was to be a studio musician for Selena’s second posthumously released album “Siempre Selena” over a year after her death. The album contains unreleased work from the singer as well as remixes of previous songs she had released.
He was contacted by his friend and musician Henry Gomez, who had worked with Selena and her family when the singer was still alive, to be a part of the project. Guzman was a part of three tracks on “Siempre Selena.”
“It was beautiful but also chilling being in the recording studio,” Guzman said. “We had a big painting of her in the studio and you could hear her singing but knew that she was dead, yet somehow still with us.”
Although she has physically passed on, Selena’s presence is still felt and her memories live to tell younger generations the story of the American dream; how a girl from Texas with amazing talent got to achieve her wildest dreams.
Guzman believes that people can resonate with her story, especially young Latinos who, like Selena, do not speak Spanish fluently. Guzman said she was a catalyst in shining a light on the Mexican American experience.
“Even now us Latinos are trying to identify with someone that’s our color, that’s from our area, that is our people,” Guzman said. “We have yet to find someone like Selena.”
Saldaña is proud of the Selena display that sits at The Wittliff and sees the display as an inspiration to young people, the popularization of Mexican American culture and the continuum of Tejano music.
“I wanted to form the display as sort of an altar in a less dramatic sense,” Saldaña said. “The star power that Selena brings in is an inspiration to all and teaches the importance of Texan music and dance, which I think is very important.”
To view the Selena Quintanilla display, visitors can visit the 7th floor of the Albert B. Alkek Library at Texas State. Admission to The Wittliff is free.

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