SAN ANTONIO – There is a scene in an early episode of the new Selena series on Netflix that encapsulates some of what life is like for many Mexican-American families living in South Texas.
Selena, played by Christian Serratos, asks her father Abraham Quintanilla, played by San Antonio native Ricardo Chavira, if she could sing an English pop song during a gig in Matamoros, Mexico.
Abraham shuts down the idea, but Selena responds, “I’m Tejano, so technically everything I sing is a Tejano song. I’m Mexican-American right?”
Abraham sharply responds, “Yes, but on this trip, we’re only taking the Mexican part.”
It’s that balance of staying authentic to one’s Mexican roots yet assimilating to American culture that is an essential part of the storytelling in the new series, which begins streaming on Friday
The story of Selena Quintanilla’s rise to fame and tragic death has been told before.
But this series focuses much more on balancing relationships within a family, growing up in South Texas and the demands and sacrifices of life on the road.
“You’re going to get the music, concerts and all that, but you’re also going to get a fully realized Quintanilla family,” said Chavira during a recent interview with KSAT-12. “How involved every member of the family was in making this a success story for Selena and for themselves.”
It’s clear early in the series that it is very different than the movie. It aims to give a closer look the daily struggle to get by and the work it takes to break through.
There are scenes where the Quintanillas have to move in with a family member, sleep on the floor and essentially live out of a back room.
There are also scenes where Abraham and the children become embarrassed for applying and using food stamps, and where A.B. Quintanilla, Selena’s older brother, has to dumpster dive for peach cans to create makeshift stage lighting.
The series shows Abraham doing the maintenance and repair work on the family’s van and later on, their touring bus, to get the band to gigs across South Texas.
It’s those real-life moments that drew Chavira to the project, “You get that sense of family, and also with that sense of family comes that pride in the struggle.”
“For them to have come from those meager beginnings and to have had the success. That’s indicative of so many of our Mexican-American families,” Chavira said.
The series covers the Quintanilla’s lives over two decades. There’s humor, empathy, arguments between family members and the pressure to succeed and be different, yet the same to stay true to the band’s Tejano fanbase.
Viewers get a glimpse of the burden placed mostly on A.B., played by Gabriel Chavarria, to produce a record and write many of the songs that made Selena a star.
Selena’s sister Suzette, played by Noemi Gonzalez, and her mother, played by Seidy Lopez, get their own storylines also while the chemistry within the group with Chavira and Serratos is spot on.
The series was produced by Jaime Davila’s Campanario Entertainment.
Davila, a McAllen, Texas native, has stated his goal for the company is to have more Latinos tell their own stories in the entertainment industry.
Chavira believes the series achieved just that and is an authentic reflection of life for Latino families in South Texas.
“I immediately saw that we had Mexican-American writers working on this and people that were specifically from South Texas,” said Chavira. “I could just tell in the way it was written, the cadence, the intention.”
“We get to focus on specifically a Mexican-American family from South Texas. But you realize that it’s really a universal story. This is the story of an American family trying to be successful,” Chavira said.
While there is no doubt the name “Selena” is iconic across South Texas and a vital part of the Latino and Tejano culture, the series makes sure to represent the family as a whole, and in between those memorable performances and songs is where the heart of the show lies.
“Selena: The Series” begins streaming on Netflix on Dec. 4.