Mainstream America was supposed to get to know Jenni Rivera in the coming months, but not like this. Not because of her tragic death in a plane crash at just 43 years old.
The Mexican-American singer, who died in Mexico on Sunday, had recently signed a deal with ABC to star in a sitcom about a single mom with quirky parenting skills who juggles family and business: a reflection of her real life. It would have been a chance for the country to get to know a remarkable superstar and woman who was talented, refreshingly down to earth and even inspiring.
Rivera had a big voice, a big personality and an undeniably big presence, whether she was onstage, belting out songs about heartache in traditional Mexican dress or a sexy leather outfit, or off it, talking openly about her personal struggles and success.
She was a luchadora, or fighter, who had overcome considerable personal strife, and she drew on her strength to climb to the top of a Latin music genre dominated by men.
She started out in music as a young mother and eventually became a mogul who sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, including 1.2 million albums and nearly 350,000 digital tracks stateside; sold out venues like the Staples Center in Los Angeles and had a bilingual TV show, a radio program, several businesses, a foundation for battered women and millions of followers online.
Fans and our readers -- Latina magazine first put her on the cover in May 2011 -- connected not just to her background as the daughter of immigrants who made something of herself, but her openness: She was neither perfect nor pretended to be so.
She once brawled with a fan, but later made amends and invited the fan to an all-expenses paid trip. She had run-ins with the law and rocky relationships: She was married three times and was divorcing former Major League Baseball pitcher Esteban Loaiza at the time of her death.
"I'm not faking it in any way," she told us last year about her life as reflected in her show, "I Love Jenni," which aired on the Latino-aimed bilingual cable network mun2, adding that she wanted fans to "see the human being behind the celebrity name, the lights and sold-out concerts."
Instead, Latino journalists like me are left to introduce her to a larger audience by writing about her in the past tense. Hearing the news of her death on Sunday, I couldn't help but think of another star, Tejano singer Selena, who was poised to make an impact on American culture when she was killed 17 years ago. In both cases, we not only mourn the artist, but the moment, the lost opportunity to have one of us tell his or her own story beyond songs. But at least we'll always have those.
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