Story Behind Selena:

The summer I was eighteen I got a job in a San Joaquin Valley packing shed. A very pretty, unusually intelligent young illegal alien named Naná Guzmán worked down the line from me, stuffing green tomatoes into boxes that I stacked on a waiting forklift. With nothing to do but chat with each other ten hours a day, we established a marvelous rapport that was just on the point of turning into something more when the immigration police raided the place, tore her weeping from my grasp, clamped a pair of cuffs around her slender brown wrists, and shipped her back to Guadalajara.

Years later, I attended a rally in the Chicano ghetto of East Oakland. It was in honor of a radical labor organizer just back from Argentina, where she had been jailed and tortured. Her name was Olga Talamante, and she entered to the music of Flor del Pueblo, a hot band in farm activist circles of the time, wearing a Nauhautl tunic of red and white with a UFW eagle medallion around her neck. Brown and beautiful, with the look of an Aztec queen, she reminded me of my lost Naná.

Olga was about twenty-four years old at the time, but had the charisma of a woman much older. There was vast experience written on her face, and pain, and incredible resolve. Yet there was something almost flowerchild-like in the way she smiled at people, looked them directly in the eyes, connected with them. And she seemed to be totally at peace with herself, despite her violent struggles in the San Joaquin Valley and Argentina. In short, she had an amazing presence, one of such power and splendor that it seemed to this lapsed-Catholic, part-Mexican writer to rival that of a Medieval Spanish saint. She brought her humble old Chicano fieldworker parents on stage with her, each of whom gave a brief speech in Norteño dialect to praise their daughter’s fortitude in her battle against impossible odds. Then Olga took over, and she was such an eloquent speaker that by the time she finished we were all in her hands. We’d have followed her anywhere.

When the applause finally faded out, she led her audience in a soaring version of “De Colores,” the haunting UFW anthem. Then we all lined up to shake her hand and give her an abrazo, so it took me nearly an hour to reach her. When at last I was in her presence, I lost my ability to speak for a moment, and finally blurted, "I just wanted to say ... you are … beautiful!" The way I said it sounded almost off-color, for I was already half in love with her, so I quickly added, "I mean ... I mean you are great ... really great … estupenda!" Her mother eyed me like I might be some kind of lecher, but Olga understood me perfectly, and bestowed upon me the smile that I still remember, the one that inspired me to write my novel SELENA.