This weekend, tens of thousands of Selena megafans are expected to descend on Corpus Christi, Texas, for Fiesta de la Flor, a music festival marking the 20th anniversary of the Tejana pop star's death. Among them will undoubtedly be hundreds of Selena look-alikes — for the weekend, at least — paying tribute to her quintessential '90s Mexican-American style: looped bangs, reinforced with hairspray; eyebrows thick and dark as though Sharpied-on; white nail polish; and, of course, the trademark brick-red lips.
There are dozens of makeup tutorials on YouTube showing how to achieve the Selena look, just one manifestation of a cult of fandom going strong two decades after the singer was murdered at the age of 23. The official Selena Quintanilla Facebook page has 2.5 million likes. You can find people swaying and spinning to her famous cumbia "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" in town squares across Texas each year on the day she died. But for a lot of her acolytes, there's one thing missing.
MAC, with its sleek retail stores and hotly anticipated yearly collections, is like the Apple of makeup, says Melanie Yvette Martin, a former beauty editor at Ebony magazine. "MAC is and probably will always be the first go-to when you're looking for something trendy," she says.
And while much of the beauty industrial complex seems to just be discovering customers of color — the sector's fastest-growing demographic — MAC is way ahead of the game. "All the way from their models to people on the sales floor, there are people of color," says Martin. The company's mission statement is "All Races, All Sexes, All Ages," and it's already the top vendor of high-end makeup to African-Americans, according to Bloomberg News.
Now 30,000 people, mostly Latinas, have signed a petition asking MAC to secure their loyalty by creating a Selena line. One Selena fan even mocked it up, with deep purple packaging to match the iconic sparkly, bell-bottomed jumpsuit Selena wore at the Houston Livestock Show in the Astrodome in 1995, her last televised concert. "The Selena logo from the movie would also be front and center," she writes.
The petition was started by Patty Rodriguez, a jewelry designer in Los Angeles. She's something of a hustler for Latino pop culture. After Rodriguez's son was born in 2011, she created Lil' Libros, a bilingual collection of books with iconic Mexican characters like Emiliano Zapata and Frida Kahlo. Inspired by the name-plate necklaces and old English fonts popular in Chicano culture, she created her own necklace company called MALA by Patty Rodriguez — Spanish for "bad girl." Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have been photographed wearing her designs.
"Selena Quintanilla is an iconic legend in our community and would she be alive, she'd be a perfect MAC girl!" Rodriguez's petition reads. It got noticed in Buzzfeed, Latina Magazine, and dozens of newspapers and blogs. Rodriguez also reached out to M·A·C directly via email. An email she got back from a rep was non-committal, but noted the loyalty and enthusiasm of Selena's fans. "M·A·C admires the passion and joy Selena brought to the world," it said.
Rodriguez says she's been a Selena mega-fan since she was 11. She recalls seeing her for the first time on the Johnny Canales Show, a Latino music show that was must-see-TV for Mexican-American households in the '80s and '90s and launched several Tejano musicians' careers. "I always hated my hair because it was very frizzy and in American TV they have beautiful blondes," she says. "But her hair looks like my hair, and it made me feel better."
She started cutting her shirts along the belly, just like Selena, and begged to wear her mom's hoop earrings. She looked for drugstore lipsticks matching Selena's signature color — fans think the star wore a since-discontinued Chanel shade called "Brick." Rodriguez would jump around in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand, in the one-bedroom apartment she shared with her family of five in Lynwood, Calif. Then on Friday, March 31, 1995, she walked into the family's apartment after school found her father crying in the living room. "They killed Selena," he told her. "I had never seen him cry," she says.
Her first English-language album, Dreaming of You, was released posthumously a few months after her death. It sold more than 175,00 copies the first day, the "fastest-selling album by a female artist at the time," according to the Washington Post. Her hits are still fresh today: Ten million people have watched the official upload of "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" on YouTube. Her family is looking for more ways to keep her memory alive; they're actually trying to develop a hologram of Selena to send out on tour in 2018.
Given that Selena still means so much to so many, Rodriguez says it makes perfect sense for M·A·C to honor a woman beloved by a growing segment of its customer base. Big brands have hooked up with other Latina icons: Eva Mendes and Pantene, Sofia Vergara and CoverGirl, Jennifer Lopez and Gillette Venus. Of course, Selena Quintanilla is no longer with us, but given that MAC's done a Marilyn Monroe line, Rodriguez points out, it wouldn't be a stretch.
"Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of the American woman," she says. "But Selena has dethroned her."
And in the eyes of cosmetics peddlers, the Latina customer is a rising star in her own right. The rise of Hispanic spending power has been well-documented, and cosmetics are a huge part of it. While sales of cosmetics declined across the board by 1.2 percent last year, they actually grew by 7 percent among Latinos, according to the marketing research firm Nielsen. At a time when many middle-class consumers are cutting back on luxury products, Latinas are a bright spot for the industry.
M·A·C is a big player in that game, but it's not the only, says Martin, the former Ebony beauty editor and creator of Beautifully Brown. While M·A·C is "the shining light," she says these customers are well aware that there are smaller brands, like Bobbi Brown, Bare Minerals and Cover FX, "trying their hardest to have a diverse demographic."
Some say the push for a Selena-inspired high-end cosmetics line is especially fitting because Selena made corporate American notice Latino purchasing power for the first time, right before the 2000 census that pushed them over the edge. For instance, after her death in 1995, People Weekly ran a commemorative all-Selena issue. The magazine had done this only twice before, for Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. The issue sold almost a million copies. Its success pushed People to launch People En Espanol, entirely in Spanish (ironic since Selena, a U.S.-born Latina, didn't grow up speaking the language).
More new Latino-focused publications followed. By the end of 1996, Newsweek En Espanol and Latina were on the racks. "Selena's death was a turning point for the emergence of the U.S. Latino market," says Latina founder Maria Arias in the book Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory by Deborah Paredez. "It's like 20 years ago and someone is telling you to invest in the high-tech industry," she told Paredez. "The same thing can be said now for the Hispanic market. Invest now."
Today, a new crop of Hispanic-focused marketing firms help big brands reach Hispanic consumers, especially Latinas, who hold most of the purchasing power in Latino households. Given the cringe-worthy history of brands' attempts to relate to Latinas, there's work to go around.
Take a 2004 Tecate ad that generated outrage for pairing a chilled Tecate bottle with the phrase, "Finally, A Cold Latina," with many complaining that the ad oversexualizes Latinas.
In fact, M·A·C has had its own fumbles here. The cosmetics company had to recall a 2010 collection with blushes, lipsticks and nail polishes called "Juarez," "Ghost Town," "Factory," and "Del Norte." As Latina reported at the time, it was "ostensibly inspired" by a road trip along the U.S.-Mexico border taken by two (non-Hispanic) white female fashion designers who collaborated with M·A·C on the line. Many in the press and social media deemed it appalling, considering that thousands of women have infamously been murdered and raped in the industrial town of Juarez, Chihuahua. From Latina:
Compounding the offense is the marketing campaign surrounding the makeup line, which features ghostly pale women who look as if they have been raised from the dead. Even the blush compact is streaked with ribbons of red that look like blood.
Other recent efforts from M·A·C have fared better. Pop star Ricky Martin and Cuban-American fashion designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo have partnered with the company on collections that drew raves from notable fashion blogs, including Latina-focused ones.
For now, Selena fans on the Internet continue to buzz with rumors that M·A·C may be going ahead with a Selena line. M·A·C and its parent company Estee Lauder did not respond to our queries, but Rodriguez says she's been encouraging the company to get into touch with Selena's family members, whom she is also in touch with about her campaign. No matter what, she says, she intends to keep pushing.
"I know it's just makeup, but it feels like more," Rodriguez says. "It means that a brand who never started to cater to people like us understands that this country is shifting and knows what we like. It's a symbol."