Lee's Trip
Christian & Marissa's Trip
Amanda's Trip
Brian's Trip
Bernie's Trip
Karla's Trip
Chris' Trip
Lauren's Trip
Jason & Martha's Trip

My Trip to Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Links




Bernie's trip to Corpus Christi - March 2010  

 Account composed 2 April 2010 (Good Friday)
Boston, MA

I returned yesterday from Corpus Christi, where I had gone to observe the fifteenth remembrance of Selena's passing. As my appreciation for Selena grew, I began to dream about making this pilgrimage, but delayed until I thought of doing so at the anniversary; and then I began to wonder whether it was appropriate to visit on that day at all, whether it would be too much like celebrating a tragic event, more or less morbid, or whether it would be what her family would want (after all, they close the Museum on that day) or not. So I asked others, and decided in favor, and made my plans.

Like any first-time pilgrim to Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi, or the like, I expected and fully hoped to be consumed in emotion and meaning, and did not seek to visit "attractions" not related to Selena. I expected to weep a lot, but also expected to meet other people whose lives have been deeply marked by Selena, share feelings, and see how they dealt with the ambivalence, so clear on this very day as pilgrims flood Jerusalem in memorial observance of a tragedy. More than anything, I expected the unexpected (and was so rewarded). Spiral-bound notebook in hand, I vowed to record my every experience towards this page.

Texas Monthly CoverMonday 3/29. After an expansive conversation with the person sitting next to me in the flight to Houston (which included my discussing the reasons for my traveling), my first flood of emotion struck me as we approached that city, and I thought of the Astrodome, and Selena at the height of her glory and charm and potential but a month before fate consumed her. As soon as we landed, a bit daunted by the vast Houston airport, I stopped at once at a newsstand and asked for the new (April) issue of Texas Monthly, in which I had been informed there would be a major article about Selena, and she on the cover. The cashier pointed me to her left, and for the second time in an hour, I was overcome with emotion as I beheld the cover, a deeply beautiful and touching painting in the style of Christian iconography which portrayed Selena as a Saint -- absent the actual iconography of Christianity, it was clear that Selena was being shown as a Saint not of some church or belief, but of Texas, of the Tejano community, and of the world. The introduction to the article described Selena as "beatified, canonized, and resurrected." The article itself consisted of hundreds of quotes from her family, others who knew her at all stages of her life, and some others (academic commentators), arranged to form a narrative of her life, death, and legacy. It will be available on that magazine's website in two months.

I boarded a small plane, three across, from Houston to Corpus Christi, the city named for the slain Nazarene and the Host of the Mass as which some understand the same (although local Corpus Christi tourist material goes out of its way to show houses of worship of other faiths). As we approached, I began to think more and more of how Selena had seen these same sights from the plane window countless times. As I left the plane, I heard a "clunk" from the walkway as though I had dropped something; the woman behind me assured me that I hadn't, nor had she. But it turned out that was my (very tired) watch. Selena's first Spanish song in the biopic is Reloj, no marques las horas ("Clock/watch don't mark the hours"). And so time stopped as I entered Corpus Christi International Airport, a small, one-terminal, one-car-loop affair. The weather was summery; my sweater that I wore from home served no purpose; I did not want to think about the torrential flooding back home and my basement and its new sump pump (as with many in New England last month).

There was some ambiguity on the web about the motel I had chosen, near the Selena museum (in fact, there are many motels in that immediate area, including the tragic one). Reports ranged from "awful, insects" to "terrific", and I was more than a bit scared. Fortunately, the latter group was right, and my stay turned out to be pleasant and everyone associated with the motel was very kind to me.

I tried to avoid or delay renting a car, out of issues of not just funds but laziness about driving in a new city, so I called the hotel courtesy shuttle. The driver, of course, was a Selena fan, who was delighted when I first mentioned her, and we began going through the letras (lyrics) of No me queda más and Como la Flor (if I recall) --- he confirmed for me that everyone in Texas, especially in "Corpus", knows and admires Selena. He indicated to me that he could drive me to the places I first mentioned, the museum, the Mirador, and the gravesite, and at that time this sounded like a great offer. He also, at my request, stopped at a CVS (general store chain) where I acquired a new $10 watch. As I said, everyone associated with the motel was exceedingly courteous, and solicitious and curious when I spoke of how far I had come, and why.

We arrived at Leopard Street, the long crosstown avenue of Q-Productions and its contained museum, and passed the latter, which displays a prominent sign at the street: I noticed that businesses were hundreds of feet apart and from the street on their grassy plots, and that there were no sidewalks. It seemed a car-only place, and my previous ideas of businesses physically abutting each other, and being able to find, say, another general store or different restaurants by foot were now inoperative. Between the motel and Q-Productions were a tanker truck farm, "gentlemen's clubs", a gun shop, and small convenience stores that didn't seem to acknowledge the existence of yogurt. Businesses, including Q-Productions, were frequently shed or barn-like structures, not of brick nor stone. The courtesy bus driver even said that the hotel routinely advised against walking the short walkEnvirons of the Museum to the museum! "We're not in Boston any more", en todo, as it were.

I tried to reconcile these images with that of beautiful Selena kissed by grace walking around this lack of a sidewalk, but I'll bet "drove" is the right term. I thought of her talking with her father, "as in the movie" amidst these drainage ditches and weeds and industrial-style structures, and knew it had to have been so.

Frequent discussions of the hometown kid who made good brought back memories of my 1985 pilgrimage to the former East Germany to visit the life-sites and tomb of my other favorite musician, and how even waiters in little Mühlhausen knew about the organist who once worked at the Blasiuskirche, J. S. Bach.

A secondary part of my plan was to find "informal remembrances" on Wednesday, the day of the anniversary, such as I had found pictured on the web, kid Selena wannabes and the like ... if I could not find out about them, I hoped to at least locate the famous Selena murals, and see what was there. Selena's family doesn't support or encourage these "celebrations", and it seems clear why -- 3/31 is for them a day of unalloyed tragedy; I would feel the same way; I am ambivalent as it is. But read on. Again, I thought of Good Friday and how different people over the centuries have read the events in Jerusalem in different ways. Shifting back to the everyday, I was beginning to wonder whether my solicitous shuttle-bus driver could really drive me through this wisp of a plan I had to an unknown event...

Checking in to the motel, I rested and started to watch TV. Although the full menu of channels and networks was available, the only TV I wanted to watch was Univision, the largest Spanish network, for that was what I have been doing at home for much of the past year as Selena and Spanish have been taking over my life. There were announcements of shows about Selena for the next few days; Cristina (Saralegui), the deep-voiced talk show hostess (some call her the "Spanish Oprah"), a woman of my years of huge dignity, heart, and depth, would devote her Monday show to Selena (she held a long interview with her brother, AB Quintanilla), as would Don Francisco his show on Wednesday (he is also a renowned Spanish TV host (Sábado Gigante), who, like Cristina, is very broadly respected in many Latino-American communities, and interviewed/knew Selena firsthand when she was among us.) All Univision news shows had Selena coverage. I was delighted to be able to see the shows that I "would miss" because of my travel, although I couldn't VCR them. What's more they were "on an hour earlier" because of the time difference, but, joke upon joke, my body was still on Eastern time...I stopped for a second to write in my journal, "What am I doing in a motel room in Corpus Christi, Texas, watching Spanish television?" A mere year and a half ago I could not have imagined this.

Oh, did I mention Spanish? I spoke and used more Spanish in this trip than in the rest of my life. This trip would have been impossible without the ability to hold conversations in Spanish. That is, I would have been unable to ask passers-by to help take my picture, ask older Mexican visitors how they felt about what they saw in the museum, and so on. All of my study of Spanish (which I began because of Selena) culminated in this trip. As her father told Selena herself, Spanish is fundamental to this region and the culture which Selena made her life's calling in the few years she was among us. Anyone serious enough to make this pilgrimage must first acquire some competence in this beautiful language which was spoken there before English arrived. It was the key which allowed people, especially non-English speakers, to open their hearts to me.

Museum Building and EntranceTuesday 3/30. Today's plan is to visit the Museum, and try to learn about "impromptu observances" such as I could. The Univision Despierta America (wake-up program) talks about Selena a bit. I had a Mexican-style breakfast with very delicious (chopped) chorizos that I remember Selena mentioning. Today's new bus driver says that it's just fine to walk to the Museum, which opens at 10. The day is radiantly sunny and gorgeous, once the (very late) sun comes up. I start to think about abandoning the rent-a-car plan; I dither. I take the courtesy bus to the museum as recommended, and arrive 15 minutes before opening. The shed-like buildings and weeds and ditch seem humble, humble surroundings for a Queen -- a passing train sounds a full diminished-seventh chord for its horn (a very tense and disturbing chord).

In a short time, a couple of other visitors arrived, and the museum opens, and a man at the entry desk, whom I did not know, took our cameras (as I knew would happen), giving us tags, and led us down the hallway of what is (as others have noted) a working music production company, to a studio, still in use, where Selena had recorded I Could Fall In Love With You, as seen in the movie. Then he led us to a room at the end of the hall which was the museum proper, of which numerous photos exist on the web. A large room with two side-wings, the Museum is haunting. One of the side-wings is devoted to Selena's career advertising Coca-Cola, whose photographers and videographers had a skill of taking the most exquisitely beautiful images of her. The center of the museum is occupied by (plexi?)glass cases with Selena's actual famous outfits on headless white mannequins; each case features a little picture at the bottom of Selena wearing that outfit; this was, of course, very moving and painful to see. I saw the white lace "No me queda más video" dress, the silver vest she wears in the gorgeous-among-the-gorgeous photoshoot picture of the Spanish Classical cast (it is dated January 1995), the justly famous Astrodome outfit, etc., and the palpable absence of Selena in them was excruciatingly painful. (One had to know Selena's life and work fairly well to be able to identify these outfits with concerts and places. You cannot come here "cold". I was embarrassed by costumes I could not identify.) And she designed each one. Of course, the many Grammys and other awards she won were all there, as well as the famous microphone with her lipstick still on it, her famous spangled bustiers, and a TV playing the Johnny Canales (a Latino TV host who featured a younger Selena many times) tapes, her red Porsche ("her only concession to celebrity"), heartbreaking photos of her singing at eight years old, and much more. Perhaps the exhibit that surprised and impressed me most was a drawing Selena had made at age 15 of dress designs, with detailed specifications of materials and forms, and a beautifully drawn woman inside of them who seemed to be a self-portrait. I had no idea she could draw so beautifully. She was, among all else, a brilliant woman.

A thought that repeatedly occurred to me was that of a life frozen and interrupted; that these were the artifacts that Selena used every day to be Selena, and they were frozen in time when she passed on. I thought of the suitcases and spectacles at the Holocaust Museum in Washington (and, of course, Auschwitz whence they come), which gave me the same feeling of the artifacts of lives in progress frozen in time by their owners' murder. Both events were tragedies so significant as to affect one's view of and attitude towards life itself.

Another strong memory of the museum visit is that of the other visitors to the museum, which quickly filled up. I spoke to many, mostly in Spanish. Often (at other places, too), I would find a young person in their 20s or 30s with a mother closer to my age, the latter a Spanish-only speaker, and the child bilingual but not as proficient in Spanish, and I conversed with the parent. One discussion Mr Quintanilla and BernieI want to mention was with one such parent; we talked about Selena and the tragedy and how hard it is to understand. She asked me if I was a believer (religiously), I acknowledged that I was a doubter, and she said that were I a believer, I would understand the tragedy. I left it at that; I did not want to pursue it.

I had no trouble spending the available time of the Museum (from 10 to 12) there. As I left the Museum, I saw a man at the gift shop door (where I was headed) whom I immediately identified as Mr. (Abraham) Quintanilla, Selena's father. I went up to him, and said, "Mr. Quintanilla?" and we introduced ourselves. I had harbored a hope of meeting him, but not for any real reason. I have no special insight, message, or agenda; I, like maybe millions of others, have fallen in love with the departed Selena, condemning myself to eternal tears, and offer what condolences I can, for I cannot begin to comprehend the depth of the family's grief. Perhaps my story is of minor interest, being a thorough gringo, an older guy, that I study Spanish and am becoming closer to Latino culture because of Selena, or flew from the other side of the country ... but that is all trivia, nothing compared to the horror that fate lay upon him and his family.

We did talk a bit. He went away and promised to come back, and he did, and we talked a bit more. I offered words like those I just wrote. As with the woman I just mentioned, he, too countered my doubts about the goodness of what God may be, saying that the evil one whose name he, like many of us, cannot mention, did the deed, not God. For me to ramble about theological speculation is Selena's former family home in Molinaone thing, but he has lived this unimaginable nightmare firsthand, and, as with Holocaust survivors whose faith persists, his life story gives his opinions on this subject special validity and power.

Mr. Quintanilla happily volunteered himself for two photos with me, in the outside office, which both came out very well. (He also noted that he steers clear of Internet writings about Selena.) He then excused himself, which was no problem, for, a bit star-struck, I had said enough. I then immediately recognized and met Suzette, Selena's big sister, who was suffering a cold of some kind, so didn't want to get too close, but I offered her similar thoughts of condolence and admiration. She was in transit, and I did not speak to her very long at all. Completely star-struck by meeting Mr. Quintanilla and Suzette, I was lifted on a wave of "positive energy", as non-scientists say, and thus had no fear of Leopard St., and sauntered joyfully back to the motel although in so doing (as noted above) failed to acquire craved yogurt.

At the Museum, one of the visitors asked me if I was going to an certain event tomorrow (3/31) in "the Molina", Selena's former neighborhood. Exactly what I was looking for, I committed the details, an address, the name of a store, the "Snack Shack", to my spiral-bound friend, and endeavored to find out more. I asked the museum entrance fellow about these events, and he did not know -- as I said, the family steers clear of them, but he gave me two numbers of radio stations. Back at the hotel, I was unable to get through to either. But I did find a web terminal, and successfully searched for "Selena tribute Corpus Christi 2010" (which had turned up nothing just a week before), and found the event. I would need a car. After a catfish lunch at the next-door (quarter mile) restaurant, I had (le pide) the hotel bus drive me to the airport, and rented one. From then on, in spite of my fears, everything was easy.

I spent the rest of the evening watching Univision (including notícias with my favorite Univision newscaster, the lovely Edna Schmidt, subbing for also-faves Jorge Ramos and Maria-Elena Salinas), and eating at the bar in the hotel, where (oddly) there were only men, and seemingly all in the oil industry and most perplexed that I was in this city on vacation. I had some conversations about energy and politics, and Selena. The bartender, the only woman in the room, was quite interested in hearing about my trip andMolina tribute mural plans for the next day, and I promised to tell her about it after it happened (and I did, as you will read). Back in the room, Univision had some news-summary piece which (when I turned it on) featured the ravings of the monstrous lunatic who took Selena from this world and I could not even stand to see it. I instead watched the last hour of Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, which features devastating tragedy and sacrifice, and I again thought of both Holy Week in progress and Selena, but Selena's passing was not "sacrifice" -- the tragedy was utterly pointless and without redemption of any kind; its only "meaning" lies in confirming meaninglessness in the course of life. And that was the end of the second day.

Wednesday 3/31. (Writing 4/3, Holy Saturday). As the sun pours down this beautiful morning in Boston, when, before the local public radio station renounced classical music, I would often listen to the tragic Passions of Bach on this Saturday, my mind is still in Texas, where I woke up Wednesday morning in a Corpus Christi motel room aware in every breath I took of what happened in another motel room a bit down the road fifteen years ago. But I had made plans to observe that in organized ways, a grey compact rental car now my Rocinante ("was a workhorse", Don Quixote's "steed"). At 6:30 AM it is dark in Corpus Christi in late March, and the pre-dawn hours were bleak and foreboding, calling to mind the rain with which the Heavens deplored that day when Selena ascended into Eternity by the hand of darkness.

Turning on the TV, Univision (Despierta America) is talking about Selena. Taking on a dark blue longsleeve shirt, one of my most solemn, I went out and ate breakfast in the hotel (the chopped chorizos weren't there), but Selena's smiling image was on the front page of the CC Caller-Times, as well as a detailed announcement about the upcoming event that evening. While I respect the family's attitude about not promoting or helping people find these events, frankly, there it was on the front page of the newspaper. The address was right, but the event would be from 5 PM to 10, N. Vela's portrait in Snack Shacksomewhat late in light of my desire to watch the Univision coverage, especially Don Francisco (at 9 in that zone). A good musician can play by ear.

I took up my car as soon as the sun came up to dispel the chilly gloom, and, following Leopard and Navigation (a very bleak, desolate, industrial North-South arterty which I suppose is there to help you "navigate", not look pretty), in minutes I found myself in La Molina ("The mill"), Selena's old neighborhood. I drove there this early to make sure I could find it, scout out the parking situation, and find my way back later when the neighborhood might be chaotic with neighbors and other fans. I soon enough found Bloomington St, and the houses that were her family's. I found the Snack Shack and its owner, Fred, who was preparing for the event, but shared some time with me, as I told my story, and he told me about he event, how it had moved from a mural-shrine down the street (which I then visited and photographed on foot sipping coffee he had given me as a gift), and told me the parking setup. I planned to return two hours before the event. Fred took a picture of me with a beautiful painting of Selena by Neil Vela, to be unveiled at the event [photo], and I thanked him and got on my way.

La Molina is a beautiful, green, soft neighborhood of pretty single family homes (some in better shape than others);Statue at the Mirador my images of poor Hispanic communities from Boston and earlier New York were completely off-base, my first contacts having been supplied a half a century ago by West Side Story (as well as growing up in New York City, which is not Texas). La Molina is a pretty, warm place, as I imagined Selena and her family on these very streets. But more about that later at the event ...

I was beginning to feel really empowered by the rental car. The highways 385, 37, and 44, 286 were easy to find, broad, uncrowded, well-marked. I could now do whatever I wished in CC, without need to negotiate times to be picked up and leave events whose playout would be unknown. Finding the Molina was easy. Finding the highways was easy. But keeping my promise to tell the waitress what happened and watch Don Francisco's tribute show might yet be difficult, and the next day I would be homebound.

My next stop was the Mirador de la Flor at the seaside. No problem, zip down Interstate 37, which gets a little confused about its identity at its very end, but, as the landscape became more conventionally city-like (the word "urban" having since been reused), I stopped at a gas station convenience store, got a real map (all streets), asked about the Mirador ("end of that block"), and I was all set.

There is a set of Miradores up and down the bay coast, which overlooks the harbor, toward the beaches on the island across the harbor. They are all white octagonal gazebos (from the British "phony Latin" for "I shall gaze"), except Selena's, which is rectangular and larger, but yet with a roof/cap like the others, and on its side a special stairway up from the pier, the Paseo de la Flor. I left the car on a spot on the pier, put on my spring-jacket, for it was right early in the morning and chilly, and ascended the paseo, my head bowed and hands in a gesture of devotion as I thought upon Selena. I gazed at and circled the bronze statue, whose body faces along the bay but whose face is turned to watch over the water. A great white (sculpture) flower faces away from the bay. There is a gentle stainless railing, yet at the base of the statue are votive candles, multiple flowers, and even a wood-like card with an extensive prayer/devotion written on it. I am at the shrine of a saint, a saint whom I, along with the people in this city, worship. It is cold, it is very early in the morning (about 9), and there are few visitors. I take some pictures, but try not to interrupt other people, a very few of whom came, some taking pictures...

There came then two men from an organized religion who began handing out tracts, collaring people to present their own version of cosmology and theodicy. This angered me to no end. There are 364 other days in the year, and Texas and the US are big places. Even Corpus Christi is a big place, but this little spot on the sea, on this day in particular is reserved for Selena. I told them that in no uncertain terms, and remarked how there were other days and other places set aside by followers of their faith for their observances and presentations. One of the two feigned sympathy, as the other went on accosting people, but after a long while, they finally left.

Most of the red mission-style bricks that comprise the floor of the Mirador are inscribed (some seemingly officially, including by the family) with messages of love, admiration, and prayer. Many other bricks are inscribed with marking pens (in spite of advisements against vandalism, out of respect for the family), some dated very recently, some with devotions and admiration, others just names ("Joe and Sue") and dates, which will probably go away with sufficient rain. It felt odd walking on them. Contemplating the beautiful but tragic statue intensely, I noted how the bronze was turning green, especially around Selena's beautiful and magical eyes and the bangs of her hair, and thought upon the Statue of Liberty from my youth in New York City, and how time and eternity greened that most famous of bronze ladies, bringing forth the following Spanish poem from me (edited un poquitocito since, and run through every native Spanish speaker I could find for grammar check; the style, of course, is influenced by classic Latin (not Latino!) hymnody).

Al Mirador
31 marzo 2010
Corpus Christi, Tejas
NUESTRA DAMA del Mirador,
Más allá de los botes y del agua miranda,
Para siempre a la frontera de las tierras
    así como de la vida misma parada:
He aquí, verde caen tus lágrimas
En las esquinas bronce de tus ojos profundísimos,
Como también tus flequillos siempre adorables,
Como se enverdece ella de la libertad en ese otro puerto.
A la libertad de soñar se le trajiste a tu gente
Mientrás a todo el mundo le regalaste tu Amor y tu Alegria;
Y como los pescadores a cuyos botes los guardas hoy,
Regresaste con un cosecho -- de corazónes.
O DAMA BRONCE miranda el puerto, otórgame
Que a tu preciosa memória la guarde siempre dentro del mío,  
Que no sea en tinieblas echado
Mientrás conmigo tu luz.

© Bernie, March 2010
O Our Lady of the Mirador,
Beyond the boats and the water gazing,
Forever at the frontier of the lands,
    Like as of life itself standing:
Behold, green fall thy tears
From the bronze corners of thy deepest eyes,
Like as well thine ever adorable bangs,
Like as She of liberty turns to green in that other harbor.
Liberty to dream thou gavest thy people,
While to all the world thou didst gift thy Love and Joy,
And like the fishers whose boats thou guardest today,
Thou didst return with a harvest -- of hearts.
O Bronze Lady looking out over the harbor, grant me
That I might keep thy precious memory within mine,
That I be not be cast into darkness
So long as thy light be with me.

© Bernie, March 2010 (también)

Bernie at the MiradorMore visitors, speaking Spanish and English, gradually arrived. Many were not pilgrims/visitors, but just passing through. An old, poor man from Cuba begged me for money, in Spanish. In the presence of my saint I could do little but give him many times what he expected. But then I subjected him to my poem! At least now I had a conversation-starter. I also collared another Spanish-speaking mother/bilingual son pair to take my picture and chat with me, who were very dear. The religion people were gone. Many people with Selena shirts and other apparel came by. No one bowed down and prayed; those are gestures of a different religion. In our religion, we sing and dance Bidi, Bidi, Bom Bom, but not here.

At twenty minutes of 12, there were quite a few people, and I decided to move on to my next destination, the cemetery, which is quite a ways away down Shoreline-becomes-Ocean. I somehow did not think that in a few minutes would be the actual time of day when the tragedy actually happened, but it is better, for I was having a "good" time, in spite of my immersion in commemorating a tragedy.

Driving South along the highway, rather than immersed in noble thoughts about Selena I was (as I should have been) mainly concerned about driving, finding the memorial park and being able to U-turn if necessary (which it didn't turn out to be, as it were). I had in my hand a previous pilgrim's web-posted account with fairly detailed instructions on how to get there, including what to do when you do. Despite the mission of grief, the highway and the coast and beach along which it runs were quite beautiful. It would have been too far for the motel courtesy driver. I found the park, followed the previous pilgrim's directions, and quickly found a group of a few people and cars right where the gravesite was supposed to be. I decarred.

The documentary footage, Portillo's Corpus, and third-hand reports, make it seem as there were a large area containing Selena's final resting place, rendered generally inaccessible by a fence. This is not so. It is a grave the size of any person's, and a few feet behind it the much-photographed anvil-like black stone with her famous signature keeps watch. These are enclosed by a small iron fence, and there is a fenced walkway about ten feet long from the internal road to that fence. At that point, one is but a foot from the foot of her grave, and one can easily leave flowers (there are apparently regulations about exactly how you do so, the size of the flowers, etc.) While it was of course painful to be there and see this, I was not overcome with emotion, for this is what is left, not what we lost. I had no flowers.

The bronze sculpture of Selena's face with long hair, often seen in reports, is actually very beautiful (it usually does not seem so when photographed), although the hollowed eyes are chilling. People came and went, and I tried to limit my conversations; I certainly did not take photographs. A man in his 70's had come from Argentina, and engaged me in a great deal (too much for the place) of conversation, all in Spanish. (Maybe I got a third of it). Oddly, although from urbane Buenos Aires, he did not use the Internet (which is as essential to Selena fanship as Spanish), and did not know our master poet Sérgio. He said we would meet up again at the Molina event.

What finally did bring me to tears was the presence of a young couple with their little son, maybe 5 or 6 years old, who all loved Selena; the parents knew her work when she was alive. The boy loved and sang her songs. Until this day, the parents had spared the child the crippling knowledge of the tragedy. I did not know what to say, and cried bitterly, knowing how I would have felt were I the child (and not knowing what I would have done were I his parent). How do you tell a child that sometimes the wrong and horrible thing just happens in spite of (even a short) lifetime of doing the right thing? Or that the beautiful young singer he adores was gunned down fifteen years ago by a sick woman whom she trusted? I was about that old when my most beloved grandfather died of cancer a lifetime ago. As the Argentine man left, I, weeping, soon set along the shoreline highway back to lunch at the restaurant next to my motel.

Passing the Mirador on the way back, but not intending to stop, I saw what looked like a news crew interviewing people. I wanted to "get in on the action", having reels of prepared statements about Selena, the nature of my trip (in all three senses), and so on. I dumped the car bayside on the pier again, and milled about the Mirador anxiously. KIII-TV (South Texas TV) was indeed interviewing passers-by, and they indeed came to me, and asked me (in English) on camera where I came from, how I felt/learned about Selena, etc., and I gave, coherently, the expectable answers, trying to keep it interesting/newsworthy at all times; I don't know what became of the footage, and when they finished, I indeed returned (with the greatest of ease via highways 37 and 385) to Leopard St.

I ate again at the restaurant next to the motel, where the very solicitous waitress (a woman about my age, an abuela), was touched by my poem as I downed wonderful pork chops not knowing what food I would see for the rest of the day. After an hour or so in my room, I set out for La Molina, and got there (as planned) with two hours to spare. I parked right across the street from the "Snack Shack", asked permission to "hang out" thereStudent Selena's at the Molina event until the event, and did so, much of the time alone, and at other times talking to other customers, some of whom knew Selena first or second hand. Most lived in the neighborhood or not far. I had a long conversation with a very elderly Cuban man, in Spanish, who was there with his two daughters who seemed to be my contemporaries. As I ate scooped ice cream, and the members of the family of this mom-and-pop luncheonette scurried about readying for the event, the little store began to grow on me, its deliberate antiquity (very old posters, bottles, clocks, other antiques, especially Coca ColaTM artifacts) began to remind me not of Selena's time, but of my own childhood (and my own grandfather's grocery store) in New York City. Although I was a visitor, I was also a customer, and I started to feel very much at home as the other customers bestowed warmth and interest upon me.

As the time for the event drew near, I acquired bits and pieces of its plan; there would be performances, presumably of Selena dobles (reenactors) singing her repertoire, a candlelight vigil (such as the one fifteen years ago), and an open mike: I entertained thoughts of offering my feelings in Spanish, maybe with my poem, (but getting back later, especially driving at night, was high on my mind). Also, the main thread of the event was in English

About a half hour before, they closed their drive-in window, whose turnaround area behind the "shack" was to be the venue. A stage and sound equipment had already been set up, and the Emcee, Sylvia D from a local radio station, was present. Less "spontaneous/impromptu" then I had imagined, this event is annual and organized. Again, conflicting feelings about "why do you 'celebrate' a death in this way?" rose up in my thoughts. But they answered this. A Selena poster on the stage labelled the event "Gone, but not forgotten", and there were various other posters of her, and of her famous signature. And there were little girls decked out with her typical gorras (caps) and costumes, and other dobles. I met Carolina, an adult "Selena interpretation specialist" in (a copy of) the sexy costume Selena wore at Monterrey (something I read during the trip reminded me that no matter how perhaps-provocatively Selena dressed on stage, her conservative and protective father was always in the audience.

Through loud sound-checks I finally found a seat next to a large four-generation family (most of the people sat on the ground, but my knees would not have tolerated that). As the event began, Sylvia D emceed in English minced with Spanish words familiar to the gathered. In time about 200 people had gathered; the newspaper later said 300. I don't want to critique individual performances for better or worse; this is not television, but a regular event in which I was a participant just by being there and meeting people, and I want to be welcome should I want to do it again. Nor would it serve any purpose to do so.

Bernie and Carolina SaenzBut I do want to make some general observations; again, how people were delighted to hear how far I had come (places from which people came were noted in the next day's newspaper, and "Boston" was listed , although others were from New York, New Jersey, and the man from Argentina -- most were Texans). And there were young girls who did a credible job of embracing Selena's texts, dance moves, grace and joy, singing her standards, in a way that reaffirmed for me how Selena was for them a source of strength, purpose, and inspiration. At every half hour, multiple TV teams came and broadcast the stage, panned the audience, interviewed people, etc., and I started to yearn for publicity, having decided that my personal story (of my fanship) is itself a tribute to Selena. There was talk that Univision was coming, that is, the great national Spanish-language network that I watch almost every day on WUNI Boston ("La mejor programación en español") whose personalities I had come to "know" well from viewership. Wow! That would be cool!

Cool? Why am I thinking about enjoyment and watching these singers and dancers on a day when the most grievous murder is remembered? Sylvia D made it clear: She and the gathered do this yearly to keep Selena alive in our hearts, to spread her joy and love, and it is working. One of the "Selena interpretation specialists" sang Where did the feeling go?, to which Sylvia D answered "Where? Right HERE and NOW." And this was true. I was finally among my coreligionists, as it were.

Univision did show up, a cameraman and producer reporter named Martha whose last name escapes me. The event was getting a little repetitious, and it was almost time for the candlelight vigil, as the sun finally went down and stopped assaulting my growing forehead. It was approaching las ocho (8 PM), and I started to think about getting back. As I made my way out, Fred the owner asked for photos with me, which flattered me deeply, and others gave me contact info. I directed some to this site.

And just as I left the gate, a Selena miracle happened. As Univision interviewed one of the participants, the latter told the reporter that I had come all the way from Boston. The reporter then talked a bit to me, in Spanish, on camera, and told me to wait a second for her to interview one of the young performers, and then she actually ¡interviewed me in Spanish! I could not believe what was happening. I would be on Univision with my year-old Spanish! (Thank you, thank you, muchas, muchas gracias blessed beautiful Selena, for bringing me this gift of a language and a people!) She asked me ¿Qué significa Selena para Usted? ("What does Selena mean to you"), and to that and other queries, I explained que Selena era the most perfect human being I had ever seen, and was the reason I learned Spanish, and the link (vinculo) between myself and the comunidad latina en los Estados Unidos. I was so dazed, thrilled, and delighted that I was lucky to make it safely home as the almost-fallen Texas sun dimmed the roadways. I took a slightly chancier route than Navigation (went right to 385 from La Molina) and was at the motel in ten minutes or less.

I had asked the reporter what show I'd be on, and she replied El Gordo y La Flaca, mañana ("The fat guy and skinny gal"), a popular gossip show that generally airs too early for me to watch, not to mention the fact that I would be too airborne myself at that time tomorrow. So at the hotel, after going to the bar (with a local Shiner Bock beer serving as dinner) and relating my day as promised to the most-interested waitress, who said she would try to capture it somehow, I called my office voice-mail to get to a colleague who said he would do capture the show (and I told him all about the trip). It turns out the Selena segment was short (and it is on the web), but they did not use my interview. Good enough. (On Univision, I hear all levels of Spanish from interviewees, from first-language and second-language speakers).Marisa as Selena

I got my belongings in order, including cards and CD's from the Q-Productions gift shop, packed my bags, and prepared to leave Selena's hometown with the morning light. I watched Don Francisco's tribute show, Recordando a Selena at 9 (Central), featuring Pete Astudillo, Johnny Canales, an adorable performance of Como la Flor by the lovely sisters who call themselves Los Horoscopos de Durango, and others in a long discussion for which, at the end, he thanked Mr. Quintanilla for permission to produce this tribute at all.

Thursday, 4/01. I thanked the original shuttle bus driver again, with another long Spanish conversation. On the (hour-delayed) plane between Houston and Boston, I sat next to a Guatemalan grandmother with no English, and had plenty more exercise in Spanish, as if I hadn't had bastante.

That's pretty much it. I took pains to get the photos through security undamaged, resulting in a manual pat-down for all my troubles, and even greater pains to get them to my local CVS in time. I did have them by 9:30 the next morning.  I spent the next day (Friday) telling the trip sequentially to several people at work, and all Friday Night and Saturday Morning writing this for you.

Please enjoy, visit Corpus Christi yourselves, and continue exploring and feeling the meaning, depth, beauty, joy, sadness, and ongoing legacy of Selena as you see most fit. The best way to honor her memory, I agree now, is to nourish it.

3 April 2010



Texas Monthly Cover

Environs of the Museum

Museum Building and Entrance

Mr. Quintanilla and Bernie

Selena's former family home in Molina

Molina tribute mural

N. Vela's portrait in Snack Shack

Statue at the Mirador

Bernie at the Mirador

Student Selenas at the Molina event

Bernie and Carolina Saenz

Marisa as Selena