A year and a half ago, in November of 1993, Nancy Rodriguez and I met Selena Quintanilla Perez. We boarded her tour bus and rode with her to a nightclub crammed with 2 thousand people, and another few hundred waiting in line outside. As the road stretched from Corpus Christi to Houston, where she was scheduled to perform, Selena shared her life with us. She talked about her marriage, her family, and her childhood. We talked for hours. The more we talked, the more we found that Selena was just good folk, buena gente. This interview gives an inside look at Selena in her own words.
Who is Selena and what is she like?
I think I'm a very simple person. It doesn't take much to please me. I'm a very easygoing person unless you step on my toes. I'm very patient to a certain degree.
Are there 2 Selena's? The one on stage and the one off stage?
I'm pretty much the same, but i like to project a very professional image. I don't like to go too far off because then people can't relate to you. If you try to come off as this big time star with an attitude, people don't like that. People can't relate to that. So I'm pretty much myself on stage.
What about the word "Star"? I don't like it. Saying that you're a star is like saying you're a freak. Even though my dad would tell me, "Be prepared mi'jita because you're going to be famous," I still don't like that word. "You're going to be a big star," he used to tell me when I was little. And I'd tell him, "Dad don't say that." I just never liked that, maybe it's because I'm hung up on being normal like everybody else.
What was your childhood like?
Llorona* (she laughs). Yeah, I've always been the spoiled one. You know how it is. The baby is always the spoiled one out of the family. And that's one of the reasons I started singing.
*Llorona is cry baby
Why did you start singing?
Because a bass guitar was given to my brother as a gift from on of my dad's friends, and my dad started teaching him. I was about six and started getting jealous because my brother was getting all the attention. So I went and got an old songbook from my dad. It had songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "I'm in the Mood for Love", "C.C. Rider". I picked it up and he was teaching my brother at the time and I went over there and started making my own melody, singing to what ever they were playing, but I was just singing whatever was in the book, reading along with it. My dad looked at me and said come here, and he got the book and says, No, no mi'jita. It's like this." So he started teaching me and I was like a perica. He would sing a not to me and a certain melody and I would repeat it. I had learned two songs within a week, and I had never sung before. I'm sure he saw dollar sings(Chi-ching! she says imitating a cash register and laughing). So he started teaching me.
How does correspondence school work?
I think that I did pretty good because I didn't have a teacher. I had to push myself. They send you your books. You do your lessons, and after that, they send you an exam. Once you finish the exam, you send it in and they grade it.
What happens when you graduate correspondence school?
When you graduate you take a picture next to your mail box (She laughs) No, I didn't even get graduation pictures. I didn't get myself a graduation ring, but I did get myself a real nice ring. I had a graduation party. Coca-Cola showed up, and they brought one of those big ol' checks, and they presented it to me. I was 18 at the time, and I started crying, like they do on The Price is Right. It was a contract and I signed it. So that was a cool present.
Do you have many friends?
I have very few friends. I'm very picky with friends. Because I've gone through a lot of experiences. I'm very trusting. That's just the way I am. It's very easy to take advantage of me as a friend. And I've been taken advantage of quite a few times. So I'm very selective now. I'm able to see it now when it's coming. So by conversation I'm able to read people. My dad knows 'cause he's cried with me a couple of times. I would say that my family are my friends. I think that's why we are so close. 'Cause I really depend on them to be there a lot. And of course, there is my husband. And maybe two or three, maybe five friends outside of the family.
When did you know that singing is what you wanted to do?
I didn't even start taking this seriously until I was older, when I was about 15, when I was actually winning the awards. It wasn't something that I really strived for. I'm not saying it wasn't something I didn't want or didn't wish for. But I've always been the type of person to say come what may.
I've never been the type of person to say, "I better win." You know, hey, if it happens it happens. But I didn't start to get serious until I was older. I just did it because it was a way of brining in food for the family and that's the way it's always been. That's how we started.
Did you have many friends as a kid?
I didn't really have that many friends. I had friends, but I always had this complex about people talking about me. And I think a lot of it had to do with when I was younger. I was allergic to a lot of things, so I could 't got out and roll on the grass. Any insect bite would just become the biggest sore, and I had scars all over my legs. I used to cry with all my heart because I couldn't wear those pretty little ruffle socks like the other little girls, and I had to wear knee highs, and it was hot outside and my parents had me wearing the knee high socks.
I used to cry. I had this complex that everybody was looking at my legs and I had these real bad scars, and my brother used to make fun of me. You know what it's like when you're kids.
They used to make fun of me all the time. Of course, I grew out of it. My skin stretched out and my scars went away. But even now, I have a complex. I know people look at you when you're on stage, when I go to the mall or whatever; I have this complex when I wear shorts. You can't see the scars anymore, but I just have this complex that people are staring at me and they're grossin out on me. And I have this complex now about my legs, and that people are talking behind my back. But it's not to the point that I'm becoming crazy or it rally bothers me. Only sometimes it comes out I've gotten over it. But really I think it's just an insecurity of not fitting in, because growing up we were not a rich family and we didn't have that much money and all the other kids at school had nice name brand cloths and I had to wear my sister's hand-me-downs, and we're four years apart. By the time they got to me, it was so funny because in our school pictures, you look at her picture and the shirt is real bright, and you look at mine in the same grade and it's real faded.
Do you think that being so focused as a kid made you mature faster?
I think I've always been mature because growing up in the music industry; I had to mature a little bit faster. Mom and dad had always taught me to be independent.
Even when I was younger, like 8 years old, I could pick out my own cloths. Not too many 8 year-olds are allowed to pick out their own clothes.
Dad would sometimes give us an allowance, and I would go and instead of buying toys and stuff like that, I would go and put cloths on layaway. And later get it out myself. I bought my own furniture set when I was 15. It was expensive at the time, but it was like cardboard now that I look back. But I bought it on my own. Than just goes to show you that I was thinking about things other than playing around with other kids, and being a regular teenager. Something else. I've always had this thing about papers and paperwork and forms. You know, business. This just goes to show that I've always liked selling things. I used to buy that fur and little eyeballs and brown noses. And I used to put them on pencils and sell them. I used to make money. I'd sell candies too. I'd take my lunch money and buy candies and sell like a piece of gum for a quarter. And I'd make a lot of money. That's part of my personality.
What about school dances, and proms?
I never got to go to any of that. Never. It is part of growing up and something to talk about with your children and all that, but you don't miss something if you don't know what it's all about.
Like I've never been to a football or basketball game. I was even asked to be a cheerleader, but I never got to try out 'cause we were too busy traveling. I was always good at sports. I was "A" ,"B" honor roll, advanced classes. But I know my main interest was singing.
How could you be sure singing was what you wanted to do at such a early age?
It's hard to explain 'cause I can't say that it's something that I really, really wanted to do. Since I've been in it for so long, I haven't had any time to sit back and think about it. I was in it already before I even knew it. When it finally started clicking in me, I was like, wow, I have this much already for my age and it's great. I can't see myself doing anything else.
I don't think that I could ever have a regular job. I don't think now after this I would want to work at McDonald's. I'm not saying that I'm not going to go to that because you never know. You know, never say never. One of these days I might be waiting on you. "Want that well done or medium rare?" (She laughs pretending to take our order.)
When did you graduate from high school?
Last year. No I'm kidding. I graduated when I was 18. But I got out of public school when I was in the 8th grade. And I went into the American School, which is the same school that Donny Osmond went too. Woe!! It's a correspondence school for entertainers.
What is it like living and working with your family?
It's just like any other family. We have our disagreements and Dad's always there to clean them up. With a belt. (She laughs) Just joking. A lot of people say that you cannot work with a family. And I think our family is living proof that it is possible.
I think a lot of it has to do with respect and knowing not to step over the line. Like, we respect my dad because he's gotten us here, with teamwork. Dad's a good manager and he's a good father. He's always had control as far as family and the band.
Same thing with our mom. We respect her, and don't step over that line. My brother, he's my older, and I respect him and what he does. In other word's, each person in the band has a job. We try not to step over that line. It does happen but it's not like major heck breaks out. We get along really good, and I think we're a lot tighter than a lot of people think. We're a really tight family. We even live right next door to each other.
I think another reason that the whole family has been able to stay together and work is that since we were little, dad has always taught us to share and to always treat people the way you want them to treat you. And he applies that in our family.
And another reason I don't think jealousy has occurred in our family is because we love each other a lot and because dad has always paid us equally. So how can jealousy arise when everyone is treated the same.
Each one of us has our own little talents, like my brother's producing. My sister is in charge of paraphernalia. I'm designing, and of course, Dad's managing all of it. It's teamwork. In order to work together each person had to have a special talent and pull together for something to work. You can't pull the weight all by yourself. OK, so we let out the family secret! I'm not in charge here.
Some people say that the love of money is the root of all-evil. For us family comes first. Money is a materialistic thing. One day you could have it, and the next day it's gone. So what are you going to do? You got to have something to fall back on and your family is always going to be there for you no matter what. Money or no money.
How did you fall in love?
It's so funny. I didn't even look at him. I didn't even give him the time of day. At the time I had this other guy that I had told my dad that I liked this guy. Actually it was the first guy I had told my dad about. Dating is something you do when you're ready to settle down. And I felt that I was old enough to sit down with my dad and say, "Hey I like this guy', what ever what ever. I never even looked at Chris. I had promised myself that I would never date a musician because I'm in the music business, and I've seen how the guys are, and I'm not putting them down because guys will be guys, but this girlfriend, and ex-girlfriend of Chris, her friend came and told me, "You know what? I heard that you had a crush on Chris." And I hadn't even looked at him. And I said, "No, not even! I just told my dad that I liked this other guy." And she was like, "Oh." But I was curious to find out how this had come about because I would never give anyone the impression that I liked him or anything. I wouldn't even hardly talk about him. The way it came about is that when she brought him to my attention, it opened up the interest and it made me look at him because I would talk to him and we were friends and stuff and he was a very good listener and it was a friendly type of thing, but then I started noticing him and it was one of those things. And we fell in love and we got married. We dated for about 8 months.
A lot of rumors started. See we wanted to keep it hush hush and not for the sake of loosing fans, we just wanted to keep it private, because people tend to make an artist public property and it's very hard to keep your life out of the public's eye. And for being Chris, Chris is a very private person and I am, too. And we wanted to keep it to ourselves, because I was already becoming popular and sure enough all these rumors started flying. I think that was the hardest time. I have enjoyed my career my entire life. But I have to say that the most devastating thing to me and my family was that, one, nobody ever talked bad about me or my family or my band, and then to be bombarded by all these ugly rumors. You name it. It was said. It bothered me and I would cry all night long. And even now it bothers me, but now I'm stronger and I am able to take it. At the time, I couldn't 'cause I had never experienced anything like that. But it made me a stronger person. Now I know that you can't please everybody and people are always going to talk, no matter what you do.
You know what counts? I'm happy. We're together, and let people talk. I know the truth so let them talk. That was a real sad time for me. It should have been happy, but a lot of people had twisted things around and made them really ugly. I was supposed to be enjoying the honeymoon and things were even being said on the radio. People that I thought were our friends. It felt like everybody was stabbing me in the back all at one time. It really hurt me. And you can imagine how my dad felt. Him being a father, wanting to protect his daughter, and all these people coming up to him and saying, "What does Selena have?," Meaning that I had gotten married because I was pregnant. Stuff like that. And it was like a slap in the face to my dad because he raised me better than that.
What was your wedding like?
My wedding was very small and private. It wasn't extremely planned. We just did it, got married. In five years, when five years comes around, we'll probably have a wedding and invite all our friends. My second year anniversary is coming up in April, April the 2nd. I was 20 when I got married. Me and Chris, we knew we loved each other, but we never thought we were going to get married. We wanted to be able to buy our own house. You know, just do things on our own. But when love hits you, it hits you and you don't expect it. We decided that we didn't want to be apart from each other so we said let's get married. Let's get it over with.
Where did you learn your dance moves?
I guess picking it up from TV. I used to watch, but I've gotten out of practice because I don't watch a lot of TV anymore so I don't know the latest moves. Basically, I would take a little step or I'd watch people when they dance, or I'd ask some of my friends, "Hey, you go to dances, teach me the latest moves." And I'll take that little piece or what I think I remember and I'll just make up my own moves and there comes a new move.
What about your look?
I don't know. I don't think that there's anything about wearing a bra. Madonna wears a bra. You know, a lot of people think it's my style because no one in the Tejano market would wear a bra on stage.
You have to understand the culture is very conservative, and I think that's why everybody made a big stink about Madonna, because she showed a lot of skin, and it was different. I think it shocked a lot of people, and I think it's the same in the Tejano market. Wearing the bras on stage shocked everybody, and that's probably why I got branded for the bra.
I love to wear hats. And I like to wear coordinated outfits, so I stared wearing the hats and the tight pants. And I started wearing the pants, the black pants because I have very big hips and every woman knows that it is a very slimming color and that's how I got into wearing the high wasted pants because it makes your waist look smaller and your hips go down and makes you look a little bit more look curvy.
Do you ever feel pressured?
The way I behave is that I behave on or off. What you see is what you get. And I think that's a lot of the problem with a lot of the artist because you can't put up a front for everyone. It's going to come back to you. Dad's always saying, "Treat people the way you want to be treated and everything will be all right." But what you see is what you get. You have to be yourself in order to be accepted. You have to be confident.
How did you get your sound?
I think that's the thing. I never took lessons. It's in the blood. I'm glad we're doing this interview, because I'm able to tell my side of the story. I think a lot of people think that because a person is a musician that everyone has to take lessons, and study many years, and I got hands on practice because of my dad. I stared sinning in clubs when I was 7 or 8 years old, and you learn. You get experience from that. I never practice like going, ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah(She does a scale). Nothing like that. Everything I've learned is because of what I've done on the road. That's another thing that amazes me. I appreciate the success of the band because I don't feel like I've really gone out of my way to get where I am today. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of hard work. But it's not to the point where I really excelled in my practicing, because I could do a lot better. But I'm kind of lazy in that department. I think that if it's meant to be it's meant to be and if it's not, it's not. I'm not going to force it. Come what may.
You relationship with your fans?
I think that's what a lot of artists miss out on. You can't forget who bought your records and who put you there. Same thing with your fans. Just because they want your picture and everything, that's not much to ask for. It's flattering. I'm not going to lie to you. There are some times when you just feel like you're really tired and you don't want to, but hey, a couple of seconds Ain't going to hurt. I think that the contact is very important because you don't want to give the impression that you're better than they are. Because I firmly believe that I'm normal like everybody else. As a matter of fact my dad has to get after me once and a while because I like to take off sometimes to the mall by myself. And there are people out there that want to hurt you. And it's scary sometimes. I've gotten in situations where people bother me when I'm by myself. And it's scary not having somebody there to protect you 'cause you never know. But I enjoy it. It's flattering.
Where will Selena y Los Dinos be in five years?
In a nursing home (ha ha). That's kind of hard to say. But I'm not one to say this is where I want to be in five years because each day is different. You can plan a whole day and nothing comes out the way you plan it. So the next five years is hard to say. But I would like to see the family still together. And that doesn't mean just in the music business. I mean as a family just the way we are. That's my main concern. And I just hope to be kicking in five years.