How Selena Quintanilla's Family Is Keeping Her Memory Alive 25 Years After the Singer's Murder
“When Selena passed away, I told my family that I was going to try to keep her memory alive through her music,” Selena's father Abraham tells PEOPLE
The queen of Tejano music — Selena Quintanilla — still reigns a quarter century after her tragic murder.
In the past year, stars like Kacey Musgraves and Camila Cabello have covered Selena’s songs at concerts — making clear her lasting influence — and now, the late singer’s family is set to memorialize her in new ways. In the coming months, a new generation will meet Selena as the Quintanillas honor her with an album of remixed Spanish-language songs she recorded as a teen; a May 9 San Antonio tribute concert with stars performing her music; even a second collaboration with MAC Cosmetics for a new Selena-inspired limited-edition makeup collection. (The first one, in 2016, sold out in minutes.)
“When Selena passed away, I told my family that I was going to try to keep her memory alive through her music,” Selena’s father Abraham, 81, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands now. “And 25 years later I think we, as a family, accomplished that.”
In addition to all that the family is doing, Selena is also set to be honored in an upcoming Netflix series based on her early life. While the Quintanillas are happy to keep Selena’s legacy going, they often are brought back to the pain of her death.
“We can be fine, and then someone wants to share where they were when they heard that Selena died, and that’s very difficult,” says Selena’s sister, Suzette, 52. “I have to dig deep in my soul to figure out why. Then I realize it’s their way of sharing, that they feel that connection, they’re sharing that they felt lost.”
PEOPLE’s Selena special issue
Late on the morning of March 31, 1995, a 23-year-old Selena — then a radiant Mexican-American singer and performer who, after conquering the Tejano music market (a fusion of Tex-Mex, pop and polka), was on the brink of mainstream stardom — went to a room at the Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi, Texas, her hometown. She went to confront the former president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar, whom she and her family suspected had been embezzling funds.
Soon after Selena arrived, Saldívar shot her once in the back; about an hour later Selena was pronounced dead at the hospital. (Saldívar, who was sentenced to life in prison, is up for parole in 2025.)
News of Selena’s death sent shock waves felt far beyond the Tejano music world; her posthumously released first English-language album, Dreaming of You, topped the Billboard charts with hits like “I Could Fall in Love” dominating the airwaves. Later, Jennifer Lopez would canonize her in a blockbuster 1997 biopic.
With her girl-next-door persona, bedazzled bustiers and a voice as sweet as it was powerful, Selena was beloved around the world. Born April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas, she showed a talent for singing at just 6 years old.
“Her timing, her pitch were perfect,” Abraham told PEOPLE in 1995. “I could see it from day one.”
By age 9, Selena was performing at Papagayo’s, the Mexican restaurant her family owned. Soon Abraham, who had recorded 13 albums with the Texas band Los Dinos (“The Guys”), put all three of his kids together in a new iteration of the group — Selena y Los Dinos — with Suzette on drums, brother A.B. on bass and Selena, of course, on vocals. (They later hired additional musicians, including 19-year-old Chris Pérez, who would go on to wed Selena in 1992.)
“There are a lot of families who think, ‘My kids are talented, they sing, they’re awesome,’ but my dad, as a musician, saw something that we didn’t,” says A.B., 56.
In 1981 the Quintanillas fell on hard times, losing their restaurant and home, and they were forced to take Selena y Los Dinos on the road. With a new base in Corpus Christi, the family traveled throughout South Texas to perform at weddings, quinceañeras (coming out parties for girls’ 15th birthdays) and nightclubs.
It didn’t take long for Selena to earn fans, and in 1986, at 15, she won her first of an eventual 11 Female Vocalist of the Year trophies at the Tejano Music Awards. With hits like “Como la Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” she’d become one of the bestselling female Latin music artists ever (with more than 65 million units sold worldwide, according to Billboard) and was dubbed the “Tex-Mex Madonna.”
But despite all of her success, Selena’s family wants fans to remember her kindness above all. Her mother, Marcella, 76, recalls the time Selena was left beaming — but barefoot — after meeting a fan.
“This girl admired the boots that she was wearing, and she took them off and gave them to her,” she says. “That’s how kindhearted she was. If you said something negative about somebody, she would say something positive. She didn’t like negativity … She had a big heart.”
People en Español and PEOPLE’s new Selena commemorative editions are available on newsstands now.