Working with Selena at the CSRC

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Lupe Sánchez
March 1, 2019

I began my undergraduate career at UCLA during the fall of 2015. The transition from high school directly into university was definitely one of the most challenging experiences I had ever had. Luckily, I discovered the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. I knew Chicano studies was something I wanted to learn more about.  I decided to take an introductory course with Professor Chao Romero during my freshman year. Patricia Valdovinos was the teaching assistant for my section, and after one of our conversations about a paper assignment, I mentioned that I was looking for a part-time job. Patty recommended that I contact the Chicano Studies Research Center about available positions. I sent my resume to the hiring team and had an interview a couple of weeks later.

I began working as an archival processing intern the following year, beginning in February 2016. At first I was intimidated because this was my first job and I did not know what to expect. However, my supervisor and coworkers were surprisingly welcoming and were glad to help me out as I learned the nuts and bolts of archival processing and preservation. A lot of what I and my coworkers do is to rehouse archival documents and make sure they are preserved properly. I always enjoy processing collections when there are photographs and other types of media involved. Having visuals to go with all the paperwork makes the collections more interesting and meaningful overall. Working at the CSRC has taught me more about the value of documentation and preservation.

Lupe working on the Moctesuma Esparza Collection, April 2016. Photography by Lupe Sanchez.

It’s now been almost three years since I joined the CSRC. During that time I had the opportunity to work with items in the Moctesuma Esparza Collection. Esparza is a well-known Mexican American producer. Some of his more notable works are Gettysburg (1993), Selena (1997), and Walkout (2006). The collection includes administrative documents such as financial papers and legal documents, plus correspondence, scripts, and photographs.

Credits for Selena (1997). Moctesuma Esparza Collection, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

My favorite part of working on the Esparza collection was processing items from the film about Selena. My family background is Mexican, and so growing up I remember watching the film on networks such as Telemundo and Univision. My coworkers and I enjoyed going through the many photographs that capture some of the film’s highlights. There are a few portraits that show the different people who auditioned for roles but did not get them. Most of the photographs are of Jennifer Lopez in character, but there are a couple of pictures of the real Selena.

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Newspaper article describes the response to open auditions for young Selena. Moctesuma Esparza Collection, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

Even though it’s been over twenty years since the passing of Selena, fans still keep her memory and her music very much alive. For me, getting to work with the materials from her film felt rewarding because I played a role in preserving part of her legacy not only as an artist but as a cultural icon as well. Growing up, it always seemed to me that everything that was showcased inside museums and everything that was considered historical always had some Eurocentric element to it. Yet here I was, working on materials highlighting a Mexican American Latina artist who surpassed language barriers, who surpassed political borders, and who essentially exceeded the stereotypical expectation that Mexican Americans are not American enough and can only succeed with other Spanish speakers.

Abraham Quintanilla Jr. (Edward James Olmos) and Selena Quintanilla (Jennifer Lopez). Copyright © 1997 Warner Bros. Moctesuma Esparza Collection, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

What Selena Quintanilla accomplished is a history that is worthy of praise and deserves to be recognized. The fact that a Latina artist was able to exceed expectations and thrive in the music industry the way Selena did just goes to show why it is significant and necessary to preserve history. Collections like the Moctesuma Esparza Collection allow others to learn about cultural icons like Selena and to enjoy them for years to come, regardless of the passage of time.

Lupe Sánchez is a senior at UCLA with a major in Psychology and minor in Labor & Workplace Studies. She is one of the archival processing interns at the Chicano Studies Research Center where she has worked since 2016.