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Jenni Rivera – La Chicana de la Banda

Commentary by Felicia Montes |
December 19, 2012
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Jenni Rivera was truly a CHICANA Mexican regional music star (even sang it out loud in a song) representing the LBC (Long Beach City), homies, single-moms and homegirls from across Cali, the Southwest and the Americas.

I was at her last Los Angeles area concert, which was filled to capacity, at the Gibson Amphitheater with hundreds of decked-out 18 to 70-year old women and some men - including her soon-to-be ex-husband - where she sang about love, sadness, diva-ness and living your life how you want, without apologies. The mujeres (women) in the audience (including me) were always left inspired, stronger and with a little less pain to carry back home. This wasn’t exactly what we think of as ‘feminism’ but it was something that each of us felt as empowerment, and probably even therapy.

I have been a fan of Jenni Rivera since about 2000, when she was on her father’s disquera (record company) and just starting out. Her brother, Lupillo Rivera, was much more famous than her for a while but has since dropped out of the limelight. Still, the family, including her other two singing brothers, Gustavo and Juan, and father Pedro Rivera have all been involved in music and for many years have performed in ‘Mexican music’ clubs across Los Angeles, the Southwest and Mexico. While working for the United Farm Workers, Pedro and Lupillo even came to the Cesar Chavez Walk I organized in Los Angeles. Lupillo shared about the importance of supporting Raza and how their father was once a campesino (farmworker). Of course I was excited to have them, but still secretly wanted to have Jenni there too.

Jenni was truly like no other. So many didn’t know about her until her death but she was truly “INOLVIDABLE” (unforgettable), which is also the title of one of her singles. She was like the homegirl that you grew up with, the loca (crazy) who always had an opinion, the traviesa (troubled one) always having problems, and the one who knew your life - really, for many mujeres MeXicanas (Mexican women), her experiences were practically identical to ours and they WERE our life. Early on she struggled as a single mom and student and often did not fit in. Even in the music industry she was in a state of neither here nor there. Many would criticize her for singing in English or not being ‘Mexican’ enough. In her personal life or interviews she was too loca (crazy), too proud, etc. Still through all that she owned it and was just herself - in all of her contradictions and that is what us, her publico (public), got to see, know, and love.

There have been comparisons to Selena - and though they have some key similarities, mainly both being bicultural Chicana singers, they are also very different. Let’s keep it real, Jenni was gangsta…not only because she was and represented the hood until her dying day, but because she always stood up for herself, her family and her cultura - to anyone from Spanish language news celebrities like “El Gordo y La Flaca” to people on the streets. In her early days she sang narco-corrido style, and even through that I loved to see a woman with power, however misguided that style was. She mostly performed BOTH banda and norteña music…I know many don’t know the difference and lump it all together…but that’s like saying all hip hop or punk music is the same - it just isn’t. There are various genres and styles even within musica norteña and banda! Jenni, like her fans, crossed musical genres by recording a song with the banda rap duo Akwid. My hope was to one day record a similar banda hip hop song with her, but more on the Xicanista (Xicana feminista) tip and with more banda/norteña music sounds. I even Tweeted her about it once (I didn’t get a response amongst the hundreds she gets daily). But that mix is something I had been working on for a few years and knew she would understand perfectly.

Access is something she gave and shared freely, almost always making herself available to the press, her fans, and those who reached out. She was accessible to her fans on many levels - always visiting and sending notes to people across the U.S. and Mexico who were sick (my friend’s friend who is waiting for a kidney transplant) but also responding to people’s Tweets on a regular basis and frequenting places where all the Raza was at.

She did charity work but also used her name/fame for the cause - for example, singing after the Arizona march against SB 1070. Having herself experienced domestic violence and her family dealing with sexual abuse she worked to bring these issues to light so much so that in 2010 she was named spokeswoman for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and honored by the Los Angeles City Council for her charity work and community involvement with their “Jenni Rivera Day.”

As a woman, she had been through so much and as she said recently in an interview, “The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up.” With her own reality shows, makeup, plus-size clothing line and decade or more of chingon(a) recordings in Spanish and English, she will be loved, missed and remembered for years to come.

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