DANA POINT — The sister of Nicole Brown Simpson had never even heard of Selena when the popular Tejano singer was shot to death six months ago in Texas.
But when Tanya Brown's boyfriend played one of Selena's ballads, the haunting words moved her profoundly, inspiring her to link the deaths of her sister and the singer in a campaign against spousal abuse in Spanish-speaking families.
Selena's song "hit me hard," Brown said.
After her boyfriend, Ricardo Fernandez Sierra, told her about Selena and put her tape in the player, "I said, 'My God! She was only 23.' So young to have ended her life."
Selena Quintanilla Perez was slain March 31 by a fan in Corpus Christi and Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, was slain 15 months ago, allegedly by ex-husband and football legend O.J. Simpson. Brown said the only parallel between the singer and her sister is that both were murdered at relatively young ages.
But when thousands of Latinos showed up at memorials to Selena, where many denounced the violent attack, Brown said she saw an opportunity to reach an audience the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation of Dana Point had not considered in its effort to counter domestic abuse.
"I thought that with Rico's ability to speak Spanish, that trying to reach the Latino audience would be a good idea," Brown said.
Brown--with Fernandez in tow--traveled to Telemundo's Miami studios in May and again in August when they were guests on two news magazine shows about Nicole Brown Simpson's abuse during her marriage.
The shows reached an estimated audience of 6 million in the United States and eight other countries. The two recently were interviewed by CNN International.
Domestic violence is often triggered by stress, and cultural traditions, loss of status and other adjustments that some Latino groups face, according to experts who also point out that spousal abuse cuts across ethnic and economic lines.
Every 15 seconds a woman is battered, and from 4 million to 6 million are battered a year, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Nearly 4,000 women are murdered annually.
"We know we're not going to abolish it or stop it," Brown said. "When Nicole's diary came out about her being abused, we as a family didn't even realize all this existed about violence and spousal beatings.
"Nowadays, you can walk into public places and get shot," she said. "Basically, your life is on the line. But you shouldn't be afraid to go home. You shouldn't have to be afraid of wondering if you're going to get your head bashed in or not."
As a group, Latinas contend with cultural pressures making it difficult for them to leave their families, a trait that tends to isolate those in abusive relationships, said Jan Tyler, a program director for Human Options, an emergency shelter facility in south Orange County.
Tyler and other advocates said there are similarities between abused Latinas and women from other ethnic groups who want to remain in the home despite being victimized. Spanish-speaking Latinas prefer to talk and share information on abuse to female counselors who also speak that language, "especially if they're not legally in the United States," Tyler said.
"For many, they can't work, they can't collect welfare and many of them end up going back to very bad situations," she said.
Husbands threaten to hide their children with relatives outside the country. Many of the women are devout Roman Catholics who believe that marriage is forever, no matter what. Others aren't aware that they can obtain restraining orders, let alone divorce without their husband's permission. Some women are ashamed and guilty, and they blame themselves for failing as wives.
"I might offer some resources or options," said Msgr. Jaime Soto, Orange County's vicar for Hispanic ministries in the Catholic Diocese. "Yet, inevitably some of the abused women wind up staying in the home. Maybe it's the children, or the alternative looks so bleak, even if it's a shelter, that they can't see beyond that."
Although the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation has had financial problems, Brown and Fernandez insisted that with the thousands of phone calls from all over the world coming into the foundation, they have an opportunity to grab the Latino public's attention.
The charity, founded eight months ago, has been the subject of questions about its fund raising and lack of contributions, despite having raised about $200,000.
In March, the family ousted founding President Jeff C. Noebel amid concerns over his legal troubles. The 40-year-old Dallas businessman awaits sentencing in federal court for lying to authorities in a savings and loan investment scam.
The foundation made its first donation, a $10,000 check to Human Options in South Orange County, on July 18.