Two decades have passed since an obsessed fan shot and killed Tejano music legend Selena.
But some of her fans said they felt closer to her than ever Tuesday night as they lined up in Hollywood to witness the unveiling of a long-anticipated tribute: a Selena wax figure at the Madame Tussauds wax museum on Hollywood Boulevard.
“I’m so excited, so nervous to see her,” said Marisa Renteria of San Diego. “She’s finally being recognized for the huge impact she had on everyone.”
The special education assistant was the first in a long line of admirers who flocked to Los Angeles from across California and as far away as Texas. For many, it was a particularly poignant week as they also mourned the loss of legendary Mexican singer Juan Gabriel.
At the museum, the most devoted fans began lining up at sundown, the day before, to score one of 300 available celebration wristbands, sold for $30 apiece.
Paying tribute to a Latino folk legend, at a place seen by some as a tourist trap for shooting quick selfies with a Shrek or Marilyn Monroe statute, had become a kind of memorial.
Teary-eyed, the crowd waited, chanted Selena’s name, sang her songs and donned a special edition T-shirt in Selena’s signature color, purple.
This is going to be a spot where a lot of her fans are going to come and see her and say, ‘Yes, she represents us.’
Colin Thomas, general manager of the Madame Tussauds, said he was stunned by the outpouring of attention for the statue, which was the result of an online campaign launched by fans more than a year ago.
“We’ve never seen anything that even compares to this,” Thomas said. “Not even for Taylor Swift.”
Figure unveilings, he said, are often low-key events that attract some media. But Selena’s unveiling evolved into a day-long party that ended on the museum’s rooftop, the only space large enough to accommodate the crowd.
Many fans said they were thrilled to finally have a place in Los Angeles to be in the presence of this image of the artist. Until now, the most die-hard Selena lovers had to fly to her hometown in Texas, Corpus Christi, to experience her legacy. There, they can visit her museum, the fashion boutiques she launched, the home she lived in with her husband, Chris Perez, and her gravesite.
“This is going to be a spot where a lot of her fans are going to come and see her and say, ‘Yes, she represents us,’ ” said Roger Gomez, who runs a popular Selena fan website.
Once a year, the Santa Ana resident hosts a big Selena anniversary party in Los Angeles that draws hundreds of fans. He was one of almost 10,000 people who signed the petition on Change.org to push for the wax figure.
Next year, he expects to be in the audience as the queen of Tejano music gets her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
At the unveiling, like others, Gomez waited eagerly to see the wax figure.
Selena’s family, who helped design the figure with a team of artists in London, wanted the piece to capture Selena the entertainer, but also her essence as a person, her father and sister said.
They chose to re-create the way Selena appeared at a 1993 concert in Corpus Christi, in a black bustier with purple boots and jacket. That performance was recorded for the album “Selena Live!,” which won the Grammy for best Mexican American album the following year.
The singer’s parents, siblings and widower said they arrived at the museum feeling like many of the singer’s fans: emotional and jittery.
Twenty-one years had passed since they stood before the real Selena. They didn’t know how they would feel facing a life-size figure that aimed to capture every detail that made the young woman so special to her fans and that had become a source of family pride: her long, dark hair; thick red lips; and signature curves.
When they finally saw her, in a private showing before the unveiling, her sister Suzette Arriaga said: “It was literally breathtaking.
“I said, ‘OK. Let’s put her in the car and take her home with us.’ ”
Minutes before the unveiling, Renteria, 40, stood in the front row. She proudly showed off her Selena tattoo as she looked on with her 14-year-old daughter, whom she named Selena.
Years ago, as she struggled to come out as a lesbian, Renteria said Selena’s hit “Amor Prohibido” (Forbidden Love) pulled her out of her darkest moments.
Many fans told similar stories of how the top-selling Latina icon inspired them. They loved her for her heartfelt and joyous music, but most all, connected with her for being genuine and humble.
Her popularity has transcended to a new generation. Some who waited hours in line were still in diapers when the 23-year-old singer was shot dead by the president of her fan club.
“There will never be another Selena,” said Sandra Suarez of Pacoima. “That’s why we love her and we’ll always be here for her.”
When the time came for the unveiling, the singer’s family led the countdown with the crowd.
“Four, three, two … one!”
The purple curtain dropped and the crowd cheered. Then, silence.
A moment later, with that spark Selena was known for, one of her fans, a third-grade teacher who flew in from El Paso, yelled out just what the crowd needed to hear:
“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom!”