Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Selena: less school, more fame

Houston Chronicle

Note: The following is the first of two excerpts from Selena: Como la Flor (Little, Brown and Co., $22.95), a biography of Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla Perez. ""Selena: Como la Flor," copyright 1996, by Joe Nick Patoski.. Reprinted with permission from Little, Brown and Co.

From the Quintanilla children's point of view, playing and traveling was mostly fun. They all loved music, both listening to it and making it. There were always pranks and jokes to keep them amused during the long miles of boredom. Baby sister (Selena) was the biggest cutup of all. She loved making others laugh, pulling tricks like putting toothpaste in Oreos or breaking the silence by imitating an opera singer hitting a high note.

But Easy Street was not part of their neighborhood. ""A lot of times, we all felt it," Selena related. ""Because, like I said, we are a real tight family. When one person is hurting, everyone is hurting, and that's how we work. And it was really frustrating. At times it was like, `Let's give up. Let's everyone get jobs and stop working and get money and just give it up.' But, I don't know, something always just held us to the music."

For a while, Selena tried to keep up with her studies at West Oso Junior High School, four blocks from her home in the older part of the Molina subdivision. ...

Selena was an exceptionally bright student, well-liked by her classmates. The band, however, came first, as her father saw it, causing her to miss classes frequently on Fridays and Mondays. The family was still scraping by, but they were going places and it was Selena who was taking them there. She was a singer, first and foremost. The family members had staked their futures on it.

It had been a bone of contention between Selena's teachers and her father since Lake Jackson. Marilyn Greer, Selena's seventh-grade reading teacher at West Oso Junior High in Molina, had several run-ins with Abraham. Greer acknowledged that Selena's grades were excellent and that she was diligent about making up the work she missed when she went out of town to perform on weekends. It was the long-term effect she was worried about.

""Selena was probably a valedictorian-quality student," Greer later said. ""She was not only beautiful, she was very, very intelligent, and she conducted herself like a lady, which coming from the barrio was not an easy thing to do. You're talking someone who was bright, a minority, and female. This child could have gotten a four-year scholarship with any major university in the country."

Greer expressed those concerns to Abraham, but he wouldn't listen. His Selena was a singing star, he told her, a child prodigy destined for a career on the stage. The school principal, a fan of the original Dinos, backed up Quintanilla.

Considering where most other kids in the barrio were heading, with too many girls getting married at sixteen and too many boys quitting school to work for an hourly wage on a dead-end career track, Abraham believed he was doing the right thing.

But he set Greer off when he mentioned he didn't like the people Selena was associated with at West Oso, either.

""Oh, sure," Greer shot back sarcastically. ""She keeps better company in nightclubs at 2 a.m."

If he had to, Abraham told Greer, he would take her out of school and educate her himself. It was his prerogative. What did she need to learn, anyhow? As if to prove his point, he arranged for Selena y los Dinos to play in the gym at the junior high, carting in sound equipment and running the mixing board himself. That would show the teachers what Selena was doing on weekends.

Greer remained unimpressed.

The following year, Abraham pulled Selena out of the eighth grade at West Oso Junior High for good. She would just have to apply herself harder by taking correspondence courses from the American School in Chicago, the same institution that educated the Osmond family.

The memory of the run-in stayed with Greer for years to come. She'd seen her share of Little League fathers, cheerleader moms, and other parents pushing their children, but Abraham took the cake. ""He always came across as a second-rate musician whose career was such a failure all he could do was live through his kids."

Marcella (Quintanilla, Selena's mother) remained in the background during these clashes, as she did in most instances. Abraham left no doubt who wore the pants in the family. But Marcie's presence was crucial. She kept the family tight. ...

It was no small wonder, then, that Selena's role model was her mother. She was proud that she had her mom's personality. Selena described Marcella by saying, ""She is loving, sentimental, honest, uncomplicated. My mom is everything that is good. I want to be like her."

For a Mexicana girl, her fifteenth birthday marked her quinceanera, the lavish sweet-fifteen party that celebrated her passage into womanhood, . . . a coming-out party that introduced a young lady to society, to the church, and to the community.

Unfortunately, Selena Quintanilla didn't have time to have her own quinceanera. She was too busy leading her family band, promoting her music, trying to build a career.

For her fifteenth, she scored her first magazine cover, her picture appearing twice on the front of the Tejano Entertainer, one depicting her in a coquettish pose, smiling offstage ... her hair still short but teased up; the other capturing her singing onstage, holding a microphone and looking very suave with mirrored sunglasses, her father standing behind her.