In Selena: The Series, Selena’s hair is a major story arch. One scene, in particular, stood out to me. Selena goes to a salon the get her hair cut and styles it very short. This is the hairstyle she ultimately wears on the cover of the “Ven Conmigo” album. When I reflect on the series, the scenes about her hair were significant to me (and not just because the wigs were Party City quality). In addition to feeling connected to this by personal experience, I thought it was an interesting display of the role machismo plays in the relationship between a father and a daughter.
Prior to the Ven Conmigo hair cut, we see Selena often changing her hairstyles, cuts, color, and even see her with permed hair. In response to almost every one of those scenes, we see Abraham having a negative reaction of some kind to her choice. It’s unclear whether Selena likes the new style because the scene is centered around how her father responds to the event. Having been previously warned by his wife to be mindful of how he spoke to Selena about her looks; Abraham unexpectedly responds to the haircut with support and encouragement. While this response demonstrates that Abraham can understand his daughter’s needs, her expectations demonstrated how her fear of his judgment affected her own feelings about herself.
When I was 10 years old, my mom sent me to get a “trim” from Doña Gloria who used to cut our hair. She lived in an apartment on the floor beneath us. Her mini salon was confined to the foyer-like entrance of her massive 2 bedroom prewar apartment. There was a large mirror, and a long counter with products and materials that anyone styling hair in the early ’90s could desire (I.e. lots of Aquanet). She had a large professional hairdryer, the kind you use with rollers (or rolos) in your hair. I used to call (and still call) that thing a spaceship. I remember watching my mom sit under that hair dryer with her rolos stacked as high as the empire state building chismeando with Doña Gloria about fulana’s daughter who turned out to be a lot prettier than they thought she would be. On that day, I was alone. My mother was busy cooking and my father was on one of his month-long (sometimes longer) trips to the Dominican Republic and I knew I would not see him for a while. I don’t know why, because I certainly didn’t plan it but when I sat in that big salon chair I told Doña Gloria to cut my hair to my shoulders. And she did. She didn’t ask me if that’s what my father wanted, or if I was sure. She confirmed the length I requested and promptly complied. Snip….snip….snip….snip.
I looked at what was probably a foot of hair on the floor and I felt nothing. I didn’t even think about how anyone else would feel. It was gone. My father always said he loved my hair because it reminded him of his mother’s hair when he was growing up. My grandmother, my namesake. I have always considered this comparison a great honor, but I cut it off anyway. When I got upstairs my mother lost it. She screamed, “muchaha! tu papa te va’ matar!” Even now, decades later, she still talks about that day. It was the first time I disobeyed them so aggressively. She felt so responsible. My hair length was up to my father and it was cut under her supervision.
The story of my unauthorized haircut came up for me as I watched part one of. Selena: the Series. Not just because we both had felt the sting of parental criticism and dissatisfaction, but because this was a mere tool in a larger more intricate practice of controlling our bodies.
Watching this show, I was surprised by this version of Selena. A person that I have always witnessed to be larger than life, has been folded into the smallest version of herself. A person I did not recognize. This show would have the viewer believe that all of the meaningful work and the creative genius behind Selena’s success can be attributed to Abraham’s (her father) ability to negotiate contracts and AB’s (her older brother) painstaking dedication to writing the music. Of course, Abraham and AB have contributed immensely to Selena’s success, but there simply is no Selena without Selena. If this series would have been sold as Abraham’s journey, I would be less disappointed with the perspective I’m being shown. It seems we have been marketed a story about one of the most influential American Latina’s of our time and what we were given was the story of Abraham Quintanilla’s experience as an emerging leader in the Tejano music scene. We watch scene after scene of Abraham in meetings. Following those scenes, we see those of Abraham withholding information, needing so much to be asked for details, and the outcome of those meetings. We see scene after scene of AB working on music, of Abraham pushing him to do more, to produce a better song than his last. And while there is a lot to be said about the relationship between Abraham and AB, there are much fewer scenes of Abraham discussing music with Selena in ways that are constructive to her career after she gains real popularity in the Tejano music scene.
While I can appreciate that they’re showing us how much she enjoyed designing clothes and how these experiences likely evolved into her clothing line, there is so much about her as a performer that we did not see. If you have ever watched any of her performances, it’s impossible to believe that her commanding presence and impeccable execution is not the work of a gifted performing artist. For that to be reduced to fun hair and shiny outfits is nothing short of the work of machismo. Machismo perpetuates the idea that women’s work isn’t work and when it is, it’s the extension of men’s work. Performing their music, raising their kids, cleaning their house. I was so excited for this series, I wanted so much to be reminded of what it was like when I was a little girl and I had Selena to look up to. What it was like to see my strength and my power in a woman who looks like me. That my strength and power could actualize in such a way that I could command an audience. That others would listen.
What did I get instead? A reminder of our shared struggle. A reminder of the audacity of machismo, that it believes itself capable of making women as big as Selena, small. The cowardness of machismo, that it could witness the power of a woman and attempt to harness it, even postmortem. The shamelessness of machismo, that it could barter over 20 years of a woman’s legacy for the opportunity to recognize two men.
I think my haircut story is coming up for me because I can understand why Machismo can perceive a woman deciding what to do with her hair as an act of independence. Real power is not in how we style our hair, it is in our agency. Machismo seeks to control our hair, Maria Magdalena style. It hopes to hide our value in something you can cut with scissors or dye with chemicals.
Selena’s contributions to Tejano, Latin American, and American music were outstanding, she continues to inspire artists today. Her legacy will outlive this series’ poor representation of her work, but it is a reminder that we have a lot of work to do against machismo.