Selena The Series – Who Yolanda Saldívar is

Abby Robinson
·8-min read

From Digital Spy

Note: Contains discussion of real-life events that extend far beyond Part One.

Many of those who tune into Netflix's Selena: The Series will be well-versed in the story of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, a Mexican-American singer from Texas who became a Latin icon.

But there will be many unfamiliar with Tejano music – a Latin-American genre which originated around the Texas-Mexico border – who don't know her story, both extraordinary and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Selena rose to fame signing songs in Spanish, a language which she didn't speak growing up but managed to grasp over time by learning on the job.

Her musician father Abraham first recognised his daughter's talent when she was six years old and drafted her into a band with her older siblings – brother AB, who played the bass, and sister Suzette on the drums.

Initially, Selena y Los Dinos, as the band was formally known, performed in the family restaurant, which was forced to close due to the recession at that time.

Music quickly became a lifeline.

"We were literally doing it to put food on the table," Selena told Texas Monthly.


Photo credit: Sara Khalid - Netflix
Photo credit: Sara Khalid - Netflix

Fast forward and the band, which had added some new faces to the lineup, had secured a record deal and was selling millions of albums while packing 60,000 people into the Houston Astrodome.

Selena picked up stacks of awards, the first of which was Female Vocalist of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards when she was just 15, and a Grammy, making her the first woman in Tejano music to win that prize.

She had conquered the Latin music scene, but her ambition didn't stop there.

Global superstardom was the goal and she was on the cusp of releasing her first English-language record in 1994 as the buzz around her continued to grow – one of her main objectives from day one.

Photo credit: Vinnie Zuffante - Getty Images
Photo credit: Vinnie Zuffante - Getty Images

Selena was also a style trailblazer who dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. She constantly had her head buried in her sketches and many of the outfits that she wore on stage were her own, which led to the singer opening her Selena Etc clothing boutiques and salons in Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Texas.

At the end of part one, we're introduced to a woman called Yolanda Saldívar, a registered nurse, who would go on to manage Selena's stores.

As the star's profile continued to grow, the family needed someone to take charge of fan mail and other administrative duties, and Yolanda became that person.

Photo credit: Crime and Investigation UK/YouTube
Photo credit: Crime and Investigation UK/YouTube

In the series, Abraham asks Suzette to contact Yolanda, who was offering her services for free.

"As her number-one fan, I'd love to create a network of support for Selena, and the band." says Yolanda.

"We're so loyal to her, because we see ourselves in her. She's like us, like me."

The score is ominous and brooding, but then the scene cuts and she's absent from the rest of the series.

Photo credit: Crime and Investigation UK/YouTube
Photo credit: Crime and Investigation UK/YouTube

Selena's fan club was founded in 1991. By 1994, Yolanda had secured herself a promotion and was managing Selena Etc.

"She became a friend of the band, and we let her into our circle," Selena's husband Chris Pérez, who met her when he joined the band as lead guitarist, told Texas Monthly.

Stylist Celia Macas was Selena's manicurist and worked in the Corpus Christi store.

"She [Selena] was so preoccupied with so many things that she needed somebody to make sure that everything was being run properly," she said. "That's when Yolanda stepped into her life and made it seem like she was taking care of everything."

According to Pete Astudillo, who co-wrote some of the band's songs, "Yolanda seemed sincere... we thought she loved Selena and the band. To win Abraham over is a big deal, and she did. She won all of us over...she seemed to genuinely want to help Selena in any way that she could".

Fashion designer Martin Gomez, who worked with Selena, said that his "first impression of Yolanda was that she was very sweet, like a mother figure", adding: "You know the kind of person who is so caring that she's almost suffocating?"

Over time, others close to Selena started to become concerned.

Photo credit: Cesar Fuentes Cervantes / NETFLIX
Photo credit: Cesar Fuentes Cervantes / NETFLIX

"When I started off at the store, Selena had lots of friends working for her," explained Macas. "Once Yolanda came on board, she got rid of Selena's friends one by one. Anyone who captured Selena's attention, she eliminated."

But it was money which brought the situation to a head.

"The employees [at Selena Etc], they were saying a lot of things that Yolanda did," Pérez told the BBC. "When issues of money being gone popped up, that's really when we started closing everything up around her."

He added: "It's not like we thought that this person was possible [sic] of the act that she committed."

Selena's father Abraham told Texas Monthly that he "didn't realise what a problem Yolanda had become until it was too late".

Photo credit: Michael Lavine - Netflix
Photo credit: Michael Lavine - Netflix

Selena was shot and killed at the age of 23. It was Yolanda who pulled the trigger, shooting the young woman in the back as she turned to leave.

The singer had gone to meet her at the Days Inn motel in Corpus Christie to discuss money that had gone missing. According to some reports, as much as $30,000 had disappeared.

"The morning of March 31 [1995], Selena got up early," Pérez told the BBC. "I didn't even think to say, 'Hey, where are you going?' No red flags went up. I didn't think anything about her going to the hotel by herself where Yolanda was."

By the time he was informed of what had happened to his wife, she was dead.

"I was told that Selena had been shot by Yolanda," he said. "The ambulance got there. I knew they had tried to give her a blood transfusion but that it was too late.

"I couldn't believe what was going on. It was almost like a bad dream. I was just numb. I went into a sort of shock."

Photo credit: Gregory Smith - Getty Images
Photo credit: Gregory Smith - Getty Images

Following Selena's murder, there was a 9 1/2-hour standoff between Yolanda and the police. She held the gun to her own head, claiming that she hadn't intended to kill her.

"I didn't mean to do it," she said (via the Los Angeles Times). "I didn't mean to kill anybody."

Instead, she said that she had bought the revolver to take her own life:

"She [Selena] told me: 'Yolanda, I don't want you to kill yourself.' She opened the door. When I told her to close it, the gun went off."

Selena managed to tell one of the employees at the motel that it was Yolanda who had shot her before she died.

According to Texas Monthly, Yolanda blamed Abraham: "Her father hates me. Her father is responsible for this."

Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images
Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images

Yolanda, who is now 60, pleaded not guilty at her trial in 1995, but she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison at the Mountain View Unit, Texas, with the possibility of parole in 2025.

Selena's English crossover album, 'Dreaming of You', was released posthumously in 1995. The record was still unfinished when she was murdered, so a number of fan favourites were included alongside her new material. It sold more than 175,000 copies on the first day and debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 charts.

Selena went on to win more awards after her death and in 2017, she received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

That is just a fraction of what she would have gone on to achieve. The only way was up. But despite her absence, the Queen of Tejano's legacy will live on forever.

"Selena was the first person who made me proud to be Mexican," explained Gomez. "The sense of pride she had about where she came from was new to me, because I had pretty much grown up in an all-white world."

Macas added: "There isn't a day that goes by that there aren't people out there visiting her memorial. Once, I met three teenage girls from the Netherlands there who had spent five years saving up money so they could visit Selena's hometown.

"Some days I sit there and think, 'Oh, girl, I wish you were here to see all this.'"

Selena The Series: part one is streaming now on Netflix.

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