Selena Quintanilla Pérez. The queen of Tejano music. The pride of Corpus Christi. Or, as so many lovingly call her, Selena.
Even in 2023, Selena retains her staying power. To say Selena is a cultural force that extends far beyond the Latine community would be an understatement. Perhaps this strong legacy is due to the biopic Selena (1997) starring Jennifer Lopez in her breakout role or the continued presence of Selena on the small screen via vehicles like Netflix’s Selena: The Series (2020-2021). Or maybe it’s because of the way that Latines have passed down Selena’s legacy from one generation to another; much like Frida Kahlo, Celia Cruz, and Gloria Anzaldúa, Selena remains as ever present in United States popular culture today as she did when she donned the purple jumpsuit and performed her infamous last concert on 26 February 1995 before 66,994 people at the Houston Astrodome for the Livestock Rodeo, an event that was televised live on Univision and preserved in a live album: Selena Live! The Last Concert. While Selena had seemingly just begun to break through into the mainstream radio airwaves, her life was abruptly cut short. A month later, Selena was shot and killed on 31 March 1995. That summer, her crossover album, Dreaming of You, debuted atop the Billboard 200, making Selena the first Latine recording artist to accomplish this feat. Songs such as “Dreaming of You” and “I Could Fall in Love” became easy listening staples. Tejano songs like “Como la Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” became classics. Three decades later, Selena remains one of the most influential Latin artists of all time.
Selena’s cultural import was on full display at the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Comedy Carnaval from 9-11 June 2022 in Denver, Colorado. By showcasing a wide spectrum of Latine comedy, the Comedy Carnaval invited Latine artists to position comedy as a strategic tool of self-representation to push against the harmful stereotypes of the Latine community that proliferate throughout United States culture. During the short-form comedy session, Comedy Carnaval attendees were treated to The Invocation of Selena by Tus Tías, the brainchild of Jessi Realz and Marilet Martínez. In their own words, Tus Tías “always bring the chisme, fun, and fierceness!” Indeed, as Jessi and Marilet demonstrated, The Invocation of Selena is fun, fierce, and puro chisme.
The stage is part ofrenda and part fan clubhouse.
The Invocation of Selena blends elements of sketch comedy, cabaret, theatre, and drag shows to speak to how Selena has influenced the Latine community and, in particular, Latinas and queer Latines. The show’s eclectic mix of monologues, drag, dance, song, audience participation, and comedy explores the nuanced ways that Selena influences daily Latine life. Jessi and Marilet highlight this when they quote one of the Selena film’s iconic lines, saying they will do “anything for Selenas”—including developing this show.
Although The Invocation of Selena is very much still in the early stages of development, this show has legs and the potential to become part of the Latine theatre canon. The idea for the show came to Jessi and Marliet as they were wanting to explore Selena as a cultural figure and as someone who has inspired the duo in their professional lives. The production is part homage, part love letter, and part reconciliation based on Jessi and Marilet’s repeated conversations about their love for Selena. Of course, this was the Comedy Carnaval, so what better way to ignite this exploration than through laughter? After performing the piece as a one-off at the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago in 2019, Jessi and Marilet used the Comedy Carnaval as an opportunity to re-approach the script and expand it.