05/05/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
Onstage, Selena was smoldering, flirtatious and passionate, yet she once turned down a role in a Mexican soap opera because it called for a kissing scene. She was known as the Madonna
of Tejano music, yet she was guided always by tradition and family. By the time she was 23, her music had made her wealthy, yet she and her husband, Chris Pérez, still lived next door to her parents in the modest Molina neighborhood of Corpus Christi, Texas. "Selena was from the barrio," a disc jockey told mourners at a memorial service the day after her death. "She still ate tortillas and frijoles."
She blazed and shimmered in the spotlight, but it was the fact that Selena was happily, proudly del pueblo—"of the people"—that forged a powerful, personal bond between her and her audience. In the saddest of ironies, it was apparently her trust in a fan—and a friend—that cut short a life poised on the brink of even greater success and celebrity. To much of America she was still unknown, a treasure awaiting discovery, but when she died, 50,000 people came together at a service to weep in her memory. "We all cried in my family, too," a young girl wrote to Selena's parents. "She lives in all of our hearts and in her music."