Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Plenty of Selena fans in Midwest, too


Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

When People magazine decided to feature slain Tejano music superstar Selena on its April 17 cover - for the version of the magazine distributed west of Dallas - millions of Tejano fans in the Midwest and on the East Coast felt slighted. Beyond that, it also reminded us of the widespread marketing practice called segmentation - or, as we call it, segregation. (The cast of the sitcom "Friends" was featured on the cover of the Eastern version.)

Many marketing specialists believe that all Mexican-Americans live in the Southwest, all Puerto Ricans on the East Coast and all Cubans in Florida. As a result, Mexican-Americans in the Midwest -- part of a migrant stream that has existed since before the turn of the century -- have long been ignored. The fact is, Latinos today are everywhere in the nation, including the Northwest and Southeast. The latest influx includes a large number of Central and South Americans and people from the Caribbean.

On a recent trip through the Midwest, we retraced many of the same roads that some of our relatives traversed for generations. Many came early in the century to work the factories or the fields, while others came to work on the railroads.

"Wherever you find work, you will find Mexicans," says Belinda Silva Cook, executive director of the Midwest Consortium for Latino Research, based in East Lansing, Mich. Cook wrote a scathing letter to People, telling them they had ignored the 2 million-plus Latinos and many of Selena's fans in the Midwest.

Obviously, except for Chicago, People's experts have never traveled the roads of the migrant stream. So they don't know about the 100-year-old barrio in Kansas City, Mo., where, on our trip, we ate on "the Boulevard" - a string of Mexican restaurants. They apparently have never been through Dodge City, Kan., where we saw several tortilla factories near the legendary Boot Hill. We also spotted several Mexican restaurants in Dorothy's hometown of Liberal, Kan., including the Vargas restaurant, at the foot of the Yellow Brick Road. And they may not have even heard of multiracial Garden City, Kan. -- home to many new immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Southeast Asia -- where we also visited relatives. There, we ate on the Mexican side of town, which was founded in the 1800s.

In Topeka, Kan., we spoke to a cousin, Daniel Guzman, a member of the Tejano group Maana. He has played in Tejano bands in clubs, community centers and church halls all over Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma for 25 years.

Juan Marinez, a scholar with the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University, who has worked with the Tejano group The Bandits, from Kalamazoo, Mich., says that Tejano music follows the migrant stream. He points out that the band recently won top honors at the fourth annual Midwest Tejano Awards in Toledo, Ohio.

In the Midwest, Tejano music, with its hybrid sounds of polka, Mexican conjunto and orchestral arrangements, is spinning into the mainstream. More recently, some groups have incorporated rhythm and blues and country music - as well as banda music, a style associated with Los Angeles.

Recently, La Sombra, a Tejano band from the Lone Star state, played to more than 1,000 people in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the same venue where the symphony played. ""It was so ironic to see people in tuxedos attending the symphony on the same night as the Tejano event where `Raza' (Mexicans/Latinos) were dressed in jeans, boots and Tejano hats," says Marinez.

A study released last year by the Samora Institute, "Latinos in the Heartland: The Browning of the Midwest,"shows that 56 percent of the region's population growth between 1980 and 1990 was Latino.

"People magazine's decision was a disservice to all of America," says Marinez. Instead of exposing a singing sensation and a music movement to the rest of the nation, it sent out the message that only Mexicans in the Southwest were interested in a cover story about Selena. The magazine's decision to then do a commemorative issue on Selena's life - and sell it selectively throughout the country - sends out the same message.

Additionally, the decision by People to bump Selena (as a tribute to her upcoming release, Dreaming of You), off of its July 10 cover - in favor of actor Hugh Grant - shows that the magazine is still not convinced of her national marketability.

Latinos are often accused of trying to segregate themselves. The example of People's coverage of Selena shows, however, that it's not Latinos who make these major decisions.

The Samora Institute study indicates that the browning of the Midwest and the rest of the country will continue into the next century. And it's a safe bet that Tejano bands will continue to be messengers of culture across America's migrant stream. People magazine certainly missed that note.