Whenever Maria Garcia arrives in El Paso after being away for a while, she notices the change in her body immediately. Her neck and shoulders “make peace with each other” when she inhales the desert air and gazes at the vivid sunsets.
Fittingly, Garcia knew she needed to evoke the special feeling of the borderlands in her new podcast “Anything for Selena,” an audio series about Selena Quintanilla, queen of Tejano music and radiant beacon for fronterizos (borderlanders).
“This is a love letter not just to Selena, but to fronterizo culture. I want to show the beauty of it,” said Garcia, host of “Anything for Selena” and El Paso/Juárez native.
Although based in Boston, where she works as senior editor for WBUR’s arts and culture coverage, Garcia came home to El Paso to write her astonishingly powerful 10-episode podcast. The influence of the borderlands permeates the bilingual audio series, which opens with a discussion of the extraordinary scent of creosote when it rains in the Franklin Mountains.
“I wrote this podcast in El Paso because this border made me exist in an in-between, an in-between that drew me to Selena in the first place. I spent months in quarantine thinking about Selena and me, here,” Garcia said in episode one of the podcast series.
El Pasoans have become devoted and gushing fans of the new podcast, along with much of the country. “Anything for Selena” has garnered major national press and glowing accolades, particularly because the podcast goes far beyond Selena’s story, delving into a vulnerable and unflinching representation of the complexities of fronterizo identity.
“I feel so seen and so heard, I feel understood!” Elenie Gonzalez said about her experience listening to “Anything for Selena.” Gonzalez is an El Pasoan and self-described “Selena superfan.”
“There were moments throughout the podcast where either Maria or her guests were telling a story of their childhood and I’m like, that’s me! That happened to me too,” Gonzalez said.
Even Selena’s own family members have found the podcast to be remarkably resonant.
Garcia said that Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, texted her after he listened to the second episode — which featured interviews with him as part of a moving discussion of loss and Latinx fatherhood.
Quintanilla told Garcia he was proud of her. He said he loved it.
When it comes to Selena, it gets personal
Talking with fans of “Anything for Selena,” the conversation quickly becomes deeply personal. There is something about Selena’s existence, both during her life and in the symbol she became after her death, that inspires fans to have a profoundly intimate connection to her and her work.
“As a brown woman, myself, as an indigenous woman, we never see ourselves being represented,” said Rachael Flores, who emphasized the importance both of Selena and of “Anything for Selena” for representing people who are often either absent or misrepresented in the media. Flores was raised in El Paso’s Lower Valley on the Tigua reservation, and is currently based in Norway.
“I’ve turned all my sisters and my mom, everybody onto (“Anything for Selena”), because it just feels like this is the moment where we start to see more of us getting to tell our histories and our stories,” Flores said. “I don’t even have words for how important it is, this podcast specifically.”
The vulnerability that Garcia embraces throughout the podcast lends itself to the depth of connection fans are having with it. Garcia talks openly about her upbringing on the border, her insecurities about her border Spanish and how “queen of all pochas” Selena gave her confidence.
Frank discussions of “big butt politics” dig into questions of race and changing beauty standards, through the lens of mainstream popular culture but also through Garcia’s own memories of how her family talked about her body during adolescence.
Garcia said she always knew the podcast would be very personal, and that her story would be embedded within it, but “I didn’t know just how deep it was gonna go.” She said that working on the podcast evoked a “personal reckoning,” and in many ways that seems to be what is happening among podcast listeners as well.
El Pasoan Eileen Lozano said that “Anything for Selena” has prompted a huge awakening for her.
“Listening to it has definitely been the topic of many, many therapy sessions. … It definitely unearthed a lot of feelings and thoughts around my family, around what it means to be Mexican-American, and who I am and how I see myself,” she said.
For Gene Morales, the podcast has made him think a lot about his own childhood. Morales is a history professor at Texas A&M University- San Antonio who researches borderlands history. He grew up in San Antonio but has been living in El Paso for the past nine years.
“Growing up in San Antonio and not really speaking Spanish when everybody else does speak Spanish, that creates a totally different identity issue,” Morales said, recalling early memories of singing along to Spanish-language Selena songs and being criticized for not knowing what they meant. “You grew up with this identity politics that you don’t know of until you really start analyzing it, and then until I went to college, I really had this identity crisis.”
For Garcia, it’s an honor to represent El Paso and fronterizo culture, and one she doesn’t take lightly.
“I’ve always known how special this part of the world is, how meaningful it is to be from here, and the lens and the insight that being from here and experiencing border culture, what it gave me,” Garcia said.
Cover photo: Maria Garcia created the “Anything for Selena” podcast. Illustration courtesy of Iliana Galvez.