When I first heard the news that Jenni Rivera’s plane went missing, I myself was landing in Los Angeles on a flight from Chicago.
My Twitter feed was filled with comments from friends and colleagues, reacting to the tragic possibility that her plane had crashed, and that there were no survivors.
Like many others, I was in shock and disbelief.
You could take away almost anything from Jenni Rivera, but you could never take away her unbreakable spirit
Jenni Rivera, whose nickname in the industry was “the Queen of Banda” and “the Diva of Banda,” had won the hearts of our community one person at a time. She was in essence, an artist of the people. How could this happen to her? She was so young, so vibrant, and had so much life.
I had a chance to interview Rivera many times through the years and she was always professional, punctual, courteous and shockingly open and unapologetic about her troubled personal life. Although at first she could be intimidating with her entourage, big personality, and elaborate hair and makeup, she would immediately put those around her at ease. In my last interview with her, Rivera broke the ice by noticing my engagement ring, “wow, nice!” She said, “when’s the wedding?”
Jenni Rivera was well on her way to becoming one of the most successful Mexican-American singers of all time. She was the first female Banda singer to sell out concerts at top venues such as the Gibson Amphitheatre and the Nokia Theatre. She had sold over 15 million albums, and won countless awards, including Latin Grammy nominations in 2002, 2008 and 2009. But her success came slow and steady. In a genre that is dominated by males and that still operates by the edicts of machismo, gaining such a loyal and huge fan base was no easy task. But she earned fans and the respect of the industry by hard work and dedication.
Jenni Rivera’s voice wasn’t the only reason so many fell in love with her. It was her tenacity and her ability to overcome so much adversity in her life. She became pregnant at age fifteen, married young and later divorced, raising three children on her own. During interviews, she talked about being physically and emotionally abused by her ex-husband. Sadly, she also talked about how her first husband sexually assaulted her daughters. She had two other failed marriages, most recently filing divorce papers with former MLB pitcher, Esteban Loaiza among speculation of adultery.
You could take away almost anything from Jenni Rivera, but you could never take away her unbreakable spirit. Images of her on stage in what would be her last concert in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon reflected just that. Despite announcing just two months ago, her separation from Loaiza and recent rumors of a fractured relationship with her eldest daughter Janney 'Chiquis' Marin, on stage she always put on a good show and a brave face. She was after all, a great performer who always delivered for her fans.
Rivera was not only a superstar, but she was also incredibly relatable and humble. She embraced her curves, her mistakes, admitting she would pick the wrong men. But more than anything, she was a loving mother, who often traveled with her youngest children and collaborated on projects with her oldest ones.
She was a woman that two different generations of Latinas could relate to. Our mothers could identify with her music, her tenacity and her love for her children. The younger generations saw themselves in her too. She represented a segment of the population that often goes ignored. She was a fully bilingual, bicultural woman, who embraced her Mexican heritage but navigated the American culture just as gracefully.
Although she was born in California, Rivera's parents were Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of the American dream. Rivera epitomized achieving the American Dream. Not only was she a singer and an artist, but she was a successful businesswoman, having a real estate company, her own clothing line, fragrance, and even serving as producer of her popular reality show on Mun2, “I Love Jenni.”
Not one to sit on her laurels, Jenni Rivera was on her way to attaining yet another accomplishment as she debuted as an actress in “Filly Brown,” a movie set to hit theaters early next year. She also announced, during what would be her last press conference, that she was developing an English language sitcom based on her life for ABC. She was also writing and recording songs in English.
Jenni Rivera was an icon many Latina women had been thirsty for. On the brink of the ultimate crossover, she too, like the late singer Selena, was also tragically pulled from our grasp with her untimely death.
In a time where being Latino still comes with its societal challenges, Jenni Rivera reminded us that life is one big fight, and you only win if you don't give up. As a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, she also gave abused women the confidence to speak up. The lyrics to most of her songs, like the popular “Cuando Muere una Dama” or “When a Lady Dies,” reflected her warrior spirit. “Fui una guerillera fuerte, que por sus hijos luchó, recuerden muy bien que en vida su madre no se rajó,” which translated means, “I was a strong warrior, that fought for her children, and kids remember that in life, your mother never gave up."
Admittedly, I was not a big fan of the Banda genre, but I, like many others, was a fan of Jenni Rivera. Her death has left a hole in our hearts and in our community. She was inspirational in so many ways, showing us that women have the ability to do it all while in heels and full makeup. ¡Sí señores!.. She leaves behind a great legacy... ¡She was a true Reina!