Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Pilgrims remember their star

First anniversary of Selena's slaying


Special to the Chronicle

CORPUS CHRISTI - Fans in Tejano singing star Selena's hometown marked the first anniversary of her death Sunday with prayers and poems, flowers and hand-scrawled messages stuffed into the wire mesh fences at her home and gravesite. Some found it hard to hold back tears.

They came from as far away as Mexico and Massachusetts, California and Portugal, fueled by an outpouring of emotion for Selena Quintanilla Perez - beloved as the queen of Tejano music during her lifetime and elevated to the status of a folk saint since her death.

In English and in Spanish, they recited what has become a familiar litany of Selena's attributes, calling her everything from an ""angel" to a positive role model for Hispanic youth who advised them to stay in school and off drugs.

Others transcribed messages from their hearts with white shoe polish on the windshields of their Chevy pickups and Buick sedans, immortalizing Selena with such phrases as: ""The Queen of Tejano still lives. Viva Selena!?"

Like thousands who have made the pilgrimage to Corpus Christi since Selena was fatally shot on March 31, 1995, the out-of-towners joined local residents visiting the singer's home in a working-class neighborhood on the city's predominantly Hispanic west side; the cemetery where she is buried; her boutique and salon, and the motel where she was gunned down by the former manager of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar.

For cousins Jennifer and Veronica Martinez the effort cost $180 apiece and 2 1/2 days on a Greyhound bus.

They saved up all year for the bus fare from San Jose, Calif., and it was the first time Jennifer, a 25-year-old wife and mother of four, had ever left California - all to spend 3 1/2 days in Selena's hometown.

""It was worth it even to spend 15 minutes here," said Jennifer Martinez, who works part time at a school. ""I have children, and this (Selena's death) made me open my eyes. I realized how special it is to have children."

Veronica, 19, said Selena had opened her eyes in another way. ""We are Mexicans," said the college student, who also holds down a job. ""I was acting more American, and she made us realize our heritage was important."

Like many of those who made the pilgrimage to Corpus Christi from out of town, the two cousins are staying at the Days Inn where Selena was shot. A desk clerk said weekend occupancy was 100 percent.

At the Days Inn, the Martinez cousins met Debra Gonzalez and two of her daughters, who had flown to Houston from Chicago on Saturday, and, accompanied by relatives, drove to Corpus Christi Sunday morning. The Martinezes and Gonzalezes drove together to Selena's home.

With great fanfare, they attached to the fence around the residence a hand-lettered sign drawn in multicolored pencil, that read ""Selena, We Miss You."

""We loved her warmth," Debra Gonzalez said. ""You can still feel it. She still lives in her music."

Also in the crowd outside the home was Jose Cheta, a composer and musician from Lisbon, Portugal, who was spending three days in Corpus Christi to honor Selena and to try to meet her family to talk about music. He said Selena's music became popular in his country after her death. ""This is a special day," Cheta said. ""I am very sensitive, and I have special feelings for this young lady."

Houstonian Ana Herrada found it difficult to hide her emotions and tears, even behind her tinted sunglasses. Dressed in a Selena T-shirt and cap, she talked about her fourth trip to Corpus Christi since Selena's death. She had met Selena at her Houston performances, and reminisced about a conversation they had had about Selena's craving for nachos without worrying about the calories.

""I don't think we can have another person like her," said Herrada, a mother and grandmother. ""She was a sweetheart, not like a star, but a sweet human being. ... If I don't listen to her music once a day I feel like something is missing."

At any given time there were approximately 50 mourners outside the star's home on Bloomington Street, which police eventually blocked off Sunday evening after a stream of vehicles all day long blaring Selena's music from tape players. And cemetery officials reported 6,000 cars drove through Seaside Memorial Park where Selena is buried. Her grave was marked with a large spray of white roses resting on palm leaves on this Palm Sunday. A budding young mesquite tree hovered over the gravestone.

At the request of parishioners, several of the city's Roman Catholic churches included prayers for Selena's soul during Sunday Mass services, even though she was not a Catholic.

And a local radio station in the neighborhood erected on its roof an 8-foot, star- shaped, illuminated sign with ""Selena" scrawled across it in red script. The sign will remain in place through April 16, which would have been Selena's 25th birthday.

Selena's family planned nothing special to observe the painful anniversary. ""It's no different from any other day," said Joe Villarreal, marketing director for Q Productions, the Quintanilla family's business. ""They live with this every day."

At Selena's grave, Ampara Lozano Guajardo of Nuevo Laredo paid her respects with her two daughters and four granddaughters. ""This is a sad day," she said. ""She was too young."