Jenni Rivera Death Highlights Mexican Cultural Influence

By Janell Ross, Huffington Post Latino Voices

When the plane carrying Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera disappeared in Mexico this weekend, the mostly Latino fans who have watched her rise from nightclub queen to venue-filling star, tuned into her reality shows and bought her cosmetics responded with fear, grief and anxiety.

On TwitterFacebook and her shows’ fan sites, they posted their hopes and prayers. But when authorities discovered the remnants of Rivera’s plane with no survivors, stories about Rivera appeared on Telemundo and Univision, the nation’s leading Spanish-language networks, as well as CNN, MSNBC, ABC and near the top of The New York Times website. The Wall Street Journal tracked a posthumous surge in her music sales. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke about Rivera’s life and death on the Senate floor.

In a country where Latinos make up a fast-growing share of the population, consumer market and electorate, the sudden death of a California-born songstress famous for distinctly Mexican-style music amounts to big, mainstream news.

“It’s really amazing because I have seen it on the front page of every newspaper I have seen today,” said Federico Subervi, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets atTexasStateUniversity. “It’s a recognition that Latino popular culture is important and influential in this country.”

In 1995, when Texas-born, Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla Perez, 23, was shot and killed by the former president of her fan club, stories about the young woman known as the Tejano music queen took days to reach the nation’s biggest newspapers, Subervi said. NBC’s Tom Brokaw referred to her as the “Mexican Madonna.”

But fans in Latin Americaand parts of the Southwest heard about the singer’s death on local Spanish and English-language radio and television within hours. Two days after her death, The New York Times published a story describing the crowds gathering in Corpus Christi, Texas, where she was killed. Mourners began forming a line at 4 a.m. for an open-casket viewing of the singer’s body that ultimately included some 30,000 to 40,000 people.

Following Selena’s death, there were other hints of the growing Latino influence on American culture. Her posthumous album and its combination of Spanish and English-language music debuted at number one on theU.S.“Billboard 200,” making her the first Latino singer to have a number-one debut on the chart.

Today, news moves at a faster pace and some of the same social networks that people used to follow Rivera’s career also helped to spread news of her death.

There are also more reporters working inside major news organizations who are Latino or listen to Mexican-influenced music, Subveri said. Then there’s the Internet, making it much easier for even the uninitiated to listen to and quickly describe Mexican-influenced music.

Selena’s Tejano songs with their accordion-driven melodies and her love-centered pop music were quite different than Rivera’s bandas, narcocorridos, and more recently, ballads about the rougher side of life, love, marriage and the enduring strength of women.

Bandas lean on a larger, louder brass band sound with tubas, horns, clarinets, cymbals and drums, said Chris Strachwitz, president of the California-based Arhoolie Records and Foundation, the site of one of the nation’s largest Mexican and Mexican-influenced music repositories. Bandas’ recurrent themes have lead some musicologists to describe it as a sung hybrid of country and rap.

Banda music began during the French intervention in Mexico when government officials established bandas de policías (police bands) — mostly brass and percussion players — in nearly every city and town, Strachwitz said. The groups remained popular with the working class and poor who live in Sinaloa, a Western Mexican state, and a few…


This article was first Posted in Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Janell Ross is a reporter who covers political and economic issues at the Huffington Post, based in New York. Previously she worked as a business reporter at The Huffington Post and covered business, immigration, race and social issues at The Tennessean in Nashville. Janell also covered covered local politics, labor and higher educat

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