CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — She has been dead for four years.
No one in her family who says this seems to believe it. Yet there's her bronze statue, by the ocean, a life-sized Selena Quintanilla Perez gazing out at the water. One thousand, four hundred and sixty-eight days. And nights. The sea comes, the sea goes again, lapping at the life left on this shore. Father, mother, brother, sister.
The breeze comes hot here. Even in winter it is thick and moist. The smokestacks from the refineries rise to the sky in packs, like cigarettes, all over this plain land. Oil country. Flat. Quiet.
One part of town is more quiet than the others. At night here, a lonely Texaco station provides the only glow for insects to bump against. A greyhound racetrack sits near an industrial lubricants plant, and wooden shacks sprout weeds in their walls.
Among this desolation stands a nondescript beige warehouse. The only sign is a street number: 5410. If you did not know this was Q Productions, Selena's family's business, you would not guess that inside there are emerald marble floors, paisley carpets, a pink recording studio, a television studio and the Selena Museum, which the family opened last year when it realized the flow of fans coming to see her gowns, photos and awards had not slowed much with the passing of time.
Selena was gunned down at the age of 23 in front of a motel a few blocks from here, on March 31, 1995. Five weeks ago, EMI Latin released the fourth posthumous Selena album, "All My Hits--Todos Mis Exitos."
Although there are no new songs on the album, EMI distinguished it from previous releases by including a commemorative pin in the packaging. The album debuted atop the Billboard Latin 50 chart and remained there for two weeks before dropping behind Ricky Martin's "Vuelve." The album remains in the No. 2 slot; according to EMI Latin national marketing director Lupe De La Cruz, the company has shipped more than half a million units, about half of which he estimates have already been sold.
The album and anniversary have put Selena on America's collective mind again. Last month, Q Productions was swarmed with reporters from around the world, all wanting to know how the family is coping.
How are you feeling, Mr. Quintanilla? Indeed. He says he feels horrible, only slightly less so than four years ago. How are Marcela, A.B., Suzette, Chris? Their hearts beat, their lungs fill with air, their pain comes and goes. But most of all, they are all moving on with their lives. You cannot live in a room filled with candles forever, said Chris Perez, Selena's widower, in a recent magazine interview, even if everyone expects you to.
Perhaps the pain would be lessened if the anniversary of her death had not been marked by the release of another tribute album. But EMI Latin says it wasn't planned as an exploitative coincidence--rather, the release was pushed back from January because of delays related to the packaging.
All of the very human players in the Selena tragedy are finding their way through life. Blown apart, they say, by the murder, the family is slowly coming back together. Healing. Not to say that they are moving on completely; Selena's mother, Marcela, still spends entire days in bed, and her sister, Suzette, sometimes can't drag herself to the office in the Selena Museum, where she is surrounded by the singer's gowns in display cases.
But a beautiful thing has also happened: Out of the pain left by Selena's convicted killer, Yolanda Saldivar, a garden has sprung up, filled with talent and ambition and future.
Promising young singers, male and female, record in the studio that Selena built, produced by her father, Abraham, including 15-year-old Jennifer Pena, a big winner at last month's Tejano Music Awards, the genre's version of the Grammy Awards.
A.B., Selena's older brother, has grown into a coveted producer and two weeks ago released a debut album on EMI Latin with his new band, the Kumbia Kings. Older sister Suzette has realized Selena's dream of developing a clothing line, and has discovered her talent for business in the process. Chris Perez has a solo deal with Hollywood Records, and is fulfilling his dream of pursuing a rock career; it is said he has a girlfriend.
And Selena's legacy reverberates outside the family as well.
People magazine executives were persuaded to speed up creation of a national Spanish-language edition when its special Selena tribute issue became the magazine's most successful such publication in history, outperforming similar memorials for Princess Diana and Jacqueline Onassis. People En Espanol now claims to be the most popular Spanish-language magazine in the nation.
At EMI Latin, Selena continues to be the top-selling artist, topping popular acts such as Thalia and Carlos Ponce. "This is and remains the house that Selena built," says EMI Latin chief executive Jose Behar, who discovered her.