I was nine when I first fell in love with Selena Quintanilla. She had passed away two years prior, and though my Puerto Rican mother says we used to hear her music as kids, in my memory my infatuation began when I saw her story told on the big screen. The Jennifer Lopez-starring biopic Selena took my prepubescent world by storm; after first seeing the movie, my little sister and I got our hands on whatever Selena CDs we could find, the beginning of an obsession that's lasted me from age nine to age 29. (Seriously: My sister and I can still quote pretty much every scene — word for word — to this day.) Yes, it was Selena's voice, and her dance moves (I love to bust out my "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" choreo while cooking), but as a young girl attending a mostly Caucasian school, I was thirsty to see reflections of myself. So it was also Selena's look that stuck with me: Both on- and offstage, she always proudly showed off her curves, bold lips, and long, thick, wavy hair, all which reminded me of my own. Yet unlike my then-awkward self, she was always smiling and glowing in edgy clothes and big accessories — confident, an elusive feeling I wanted more than anything back in those days. It didn't take long before I started channeling both Selena and Jennifer Lopez's styles. Suddenly I was no longer trying to mimic the stick-straight hair and Tiffany bracelets of my private-school classmates; my gold hoops and name plates (compliments of my Puerto Rican grandmother) became my signature accessories, I coveted my mother's eyeliner (though I wasn't allowed to wear red lipstick until I was older — that's a strict Latina mom for you), and when I watched videos of Selena, I felt less self-conscious about my frizzy hair. But the movie Selena wasn't just an important inspiration for little girls like me; it was a pop-culture and beauty moment that was doubly important for Latinos everywhere. Not only was the Mexican-American star's legacy being shared with millions of people who may not have previously known her, but the movie about her life also launched the career of the then-rising Puerto Rican actress Jennifer Lopez. Even though it happened after Selena Quintanilla's death, we can thank her for launching the mainstream acceptance of Latina beauty in Hollywood in the late '90s and early '00s; thanks to her nuanced portrayal of the Queen of Tejano, JLo's own star rose, opening the door for the likes of Eva Longoria, Zoe Saldana, Salma Hayek, Sofia Vergara, Eva Mendes, Shakira, and more to become not just entertainers, but brands within themselves — and the faces for mainstream cosmetic companies.
This isn't a line that masks who we are; it enhances it.
The older I got, the more I saw Latina celebs like them in major advertisements. But I noticed that it often came at a price. The ads typically leaned toward a white ideal of what is beautiful: Straight hair, skin highlighted in the lightest shade possible, and softened features. So when MAC officially announced that they were releasing a collection to honor Selena this year, I was relieved that the promos showed Selena in her true, proudly Latina element: Red lips, dark brows, caramel skin popping. (No doubt this was in part thanks to her sister, Suzette, who worked with the brand to dream up the collection.) There is no whitewashing here; the eyeshadows, blush, mascara, eyeliner, gloss, and lipstick shades are not only products Selena would have likely worn herself, they're also products Latinas will look great in. This isn't a line that masks who we are; it enhances it.
We owe this MAC release in part to Patty Rodriguez, the fan who launched a Change.org petition in 2014 proposing the idea to the company, a call to action that garnered nearly 40,000 signatures, showing exactly the kind of impact Latina consumers can have on the retail industry. MAC had collaborated with everyone from Rihanna to Ellie Goulding over the years, but a collection by Latinas, for Latinas was long overdue — especially when you consider that Hispanics are three (!) times more likely to buy beauty products than other groups of women. The arrival of MAC x Selena feels like the beauty world finally woke up and said, 'We see you, you are beautiful, and you are worthy of a collaboration on this level.' They've finally confirmed what Selena and the rest of us have known all along: Our trends and traits are not something to be scorned first, then appropriated years later by white celebrities. We're a culture that can and should be given credit and representation in the beauty conversation. So thank you, MAC. And thank you, Selena — two decades after your passing — for reminding me, Latinas everywhere, and the world that our unique beauty is worth celebrating. When I first paired my Techno Cumbia bronzer-blush with my fiery Como La Flor lipstick (I'm finally old enough, Mom!) and looked in the mirror, the Latina woman who winked back at me appeared exactly how she wanted to way back at age nine: confident.