La Diva De La Gente: Remembering Jenni Rivera

By Arturo R. García

It’s hard not to think of Jenni Rivera’s death Sunday without thinking of Selena Quintanilla and Ritchie Valens. Three Mexican-Americans dead, on the cusp of making more headway into the country’s overall pop-culture consciousness.

But the loss of Rivera’s voice doesn’t just affect her loved ones, her fans or the musical realm–social justice lost an increasingly important Latina as well.

Like Quintanilla, Rivera, a California native, made her name in Mexican regional music circles (Rivera earned her reputation as La Diva de la Banda in the Norteño genre, while Selena was a star in Tejano). And like Valens, Rivera died in a plane crash; Rivera’s plane, as has been widely reported, had already sustained one accident years ago.

But Rivera was also on pace to reach audiences in other avenues: not only had she starred in her own reality show on the Spanish-language network Mun2, but Rivera was developing a television pilot for ABC, which might have provided a welcome salve from disasters like Rob! and Work It. And, as Latino Review pointed out, Rivera was also in the cast of Filly Brown, which the site praised earlier this year.

There’s every indication that Rivera’s crossover celebrity would also have expanded her social platform.

According to Colorlines, Rivera was also at the forefront of celebrities speaking up against anti-immigration laws like Arizona’s SB1070, as seen in this clip from a march against the bill two years ago before it was passed:

In the video, Rivera says of SB 1070, “[It's] an injustice ; it’s discriminatory; it’s hate; it doesn’t respect humanity; and it’s racist.” She wound up marching five miles that day and being hospitalized.

Rivera was also a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and founded her own support group, the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation, dedicated to helping women who have suffered sexual and domestic abuse–subjects she did not shy away from in her work.

Nor did she shy away from the fight for marriage equality: at last year’s Premios Billboard, spotlighting Latin music, Rivera donned purple in a show of solidarity that earned her plaudits from the LGBT community.

While the timing of her death lends an extra weight to her 2003 song “Cuando Muere Una Dama” (“When A Lady Dies”)–the lyrics include “I want one last celebration at my funeral/All those who loved me will have to celebrate/Remembering my smile and the way I cry” — it might also be best to remember a 2010 interview she gave Latina Magazine, where she talked not only about working with her daughter, but her own take on being a Latina:

It means that things haven’t been easy for us because the market is still dominated by males. I want to be able to tell my people, my girls and my fans out there, that ‘yeah, we can do it.’ It’s not easy, but we can do it. And we can have fun on the way!

Update: This piece has been updated since initial publication.

  • aboynamedart

    As originally written, I meant to say “non-Latino,” but your point is well taken. The piece has been updated to clear that up. Thank you for reading!

  • nicthommi

    What is most remarkable to me is that the first time I’d ever heard of Jenni Rivera was on Sunday when I saw the new flash that her plane was missing and possibly had crashed. I wasn’t sure if she was a Mexican singer or a Mexican American singer.
    It is rather remarkable to me how many “Americas” exist within this country. Similarly, I had never heard of Selena until she was murdered. At times I get glimpses of the huge world of Spanish language TV and music and it’s easy to forget how many of its stars are US citizens.
    I guess that as a Black American, I shouldn’t be surprised, since there are many people that to me are stars that my non-black friends have never heard of.
    I don’t have anything to add since I’m not familiar with Ms. Rivera’s body of work, but I’ll saw just in the clips I’ve seen, I’m happy seeing a thick curvy woman proudly flaunting her body. It seems as if on the other side of things, women will flaunt their pride in their curves long enough to get a deal with Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, and as soon as they hit a Hollywood acceptable weight, they join in the chorus of putting down their old bodies.
    Her loss is truly a big one, even to those of us who never had the chance to know her/know of her.