Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Fans find solace in final verdict.

October 29, 1995

Still, much of the emotion was touchingly genuine. Thursday, as dozens roared their approval of Saldivar's life sentence, a lone, middle-aged man elbowed his way through the crowd. He sobbed uncontrollably. His friends explained he was overcome with joy at the trial's outcome. "There is a lot of hurt still out there," said Leonardo Carillo, professor of Mexican studies and director of international programs at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "There hasn't been enough time to pass for people to be able to intellectualize what happened.

They're still working from the heart -- from an emotive base." Selena, who was only 23 when she was gunned down at a Corpus Christi motel on March 31, clearly was beloved by her fans. "She was a role model," said Danna Bradshaw of Fort Worth, who, along with her parents, Ofelia and Truman Bradshaw, spent two weeks in the courthouse vigil. "She urged kids to stay in school. She didn't do drugs or alcohol. And although other rock stars may say they don't do drugs, you know that they probably do. Selena was true to her word.

We know that from the medical examiner's report. They found no trace of those things in her blood." Ofelia Bradshaw, who is Mexican-American, was among courtroom spectators when Saldivar was found guilty last Monday. "I said a prayer that they would find her guilty," she said. "When they did, I wanted to jump up and down and yell, but I had to wait until I was outside the courthouse." Bradshaw, outside the courthouse Thursday afternoon, grew ecstatic when she learned of Saldivar's life sentence. "Happy? Yes, I'm happy," she shrieked. "She took a life and she got life." Others were happy, too. "Let her rot in prison!" shouted Denise Martinez of Houston. "Thirty years in prison. She'll be an old hag when she gets out."

That type of reaction, Texas A&M University psychology Professor Steve Worchel said, represents a phenomen called "polarization. When you get into groups, the middle ground doesn't hold." "In cases like this, you have anger and a desire for punishment. It's not just `jail her.' It's, `hang her, destroy her!' Many times, groups just take on a life of their own." In observing the outpouring of emotion during the Saldivar trial, Rice University sociology Professor Bill Martin found similarities with the recent Million Man March to Washington, D.C., and the white evangelical Promise Keepers movement. Common to all, Martin said, is a reassertion of values basic to the groups. "You have these rituals all over the world," Martin said. "It's a feeling of `I am not alone. I share values with others. What I like, they like.' "Selena represents what we admire.

She was young and beautiful and talented. When she was cut down by an `evil' person, it was an opportunity to express cultural solidarity." Worchel agreed. "The values laid at Selena's doorstep -- no drugs, family -- were exactly the ones that Farrakhan and others raised," he said. Observers also noted that many fans may have been exhibiting basic hero worship. "People tend to identify with their heroes," Martin said. "They have the traits we would like to have. Some of that is reading back --there's a tendency to idealize heroes. The parts that are perhaps less appealing perhaps get overlooked.

I wouldn't be surprised if in a year or so we start seeing biographies that deal with those aspects of Selena." There's a tendency, too, he said, to idolize and idealize cultural figures whose lives were cut short through assassination. President John F. Kennedy is a classic example, he said. "This is in no way to detract from Selena's skills," Martin said, "but, she never lived to see her first best-selling album. In some way, her death may have enhanced its appeal." Robert Bezdek, a political science professor at A&M's Corpus Christi campus, argued that Selena's impact primarily was in the Spanish-speaking segment of the Hispanic community.

Polls of his students indicated most of those who were Mexican-American were not Selena fans. "This leads me to speculate that her strong admirers were a small segment of the Hispanic community that spoke Spanish and liked Tejano music," he said. "This is no slam on Selena, but I find that her music appealed to an important but narrow segment of people." Some of his Hispanic students, he noted, found Selena an unconvincing role model. "One student, who is incredibly bright, admitted that she felt Selena was too young. That she hadn't done anything, compared to, say, Dr. Hector Garcia (founder of the advocacy group G.I. Forum) who had been out in the trenches 40 or 50 years working for civil rights. Selena was a nice, neat lady, and she did nice, neat things, but she was only 23."

Acknowledging that Hispanic role models are plentiful in the professions and the arts, Carillo suggested that Selena's appeal lay in the fact that she excelled and prospered within her own culture. "Military heroes and people like that functioned outside our culture," he said. "There was the feeling," said A&M's Worchel, "that Selena's success and values weren't coming from on high. That they were coming from within. That can be an especially powerful symbol. "Here's someone from the people and of the people who lives a very similar daily life to that of her fans. She deals with the daily battles of her partisans, and that's different from someone who is a doctor or a lawyer and is somehow removed from that daily situation. "Destruction of that symbol brings out extreme feelings of anger and grief."