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Remember Jenni Rivera, Even If You Didn't Know Her

I almost dismissed the life and death of 43-year-old Jenni Rivera, the "Diva of Banda" who died in a plane crash early Sunday, as another headline not applicable to me.


Fans Mourn Popular Mexican-American Banda Singer Jenni Rivera's Death

A Facebook post in my timeline changed that.

"R.I.P. Jenni Rivera," it read. "Her music got me through some tough times." Those words made me think and act differently.

It made me look back at a few tough times of my own when music had its place, like my parent's divorce. It was a life event caused by reoccurrences of abuse and infidelity -- themes interwoven in Jenni Rivera's catalogue and her life.

It feels comedic today and a bit embarrassing to admit, but I remembered Mariah Carey's 1990 self-titled album blaring out of our car speakers as my mother and I left everything we knew to start fresh. Mariah's songs of heartache served as a soundtrack to what was happening in real life. I'll be honest. Her songs got us through some tough times.

Despite her being Mexican-American, I wasn't a follower of Jenni Rivera. Like many Americans, her death is what alerted me, not only to her countless musical accomplishments, but to her influence on the people, many Latinas, who found her songs to be anthems of the times and therapeutic outlets to the tough realities life can deal.

Ironically, in April 1995, I was a Tejano music-loving high school sophomore in a town southwest of Houston trying to explain to my non-Hispanic schoolmates who Selena was and why I was so impacted by her untimely death at the hands of her fan-club president. I was one of the lucky ones who can say they saw Selena debut her English tracks to a record-setting crowd in the Astrodome while draped in the purple sequins that Jennifer Lopez made famous.

Like Jenni Rivera, Selena was only a star in her corner of the music universe, one whose death brought her overnight mainstream notoriety. However, both women were on the very brink of crossover and could have earned it themselves. The media's calls for remembrance happen before anyone, including me, really got to know Jenni Rivera.

Her penning English tracks and a developing ABC comedy she was set to star in go down as her unfulfilled potential and wrenching "what ifs" among her fan base.

But those aren't the reasons I want to remember Jenni Rivera, anyway. I'd like to think, however far-fetched, that Jenni Rivera's legacy will live as a memory for some young boy who saw his mother through heartache and maybe the other side of hell through song. Maybe Jenni Rivera's music played the same role for him that Mariah Carey's did for me.

Then again, maybe you're not me. Maybe you're a person without connections to Selena, Facebook friends who knew about Jenni Rivera's music and a parental divorce sob story.

Then you should know this: Jenni's music and her unforgiving transparency about her own struggles struck at the heart of her female fans -- those who may have dealt with infidelity and abuse and those who balance their progress and evolution as women with the competing cultural roles and expectations of their heritage.

That's profound because Jenni Rivera sent those empowering and ballsy messages on a stage she wasn't supposed to stand on. She transcended gender walls by bulldozing her way to the forefront of a male-dominated music genre in a community thick with machismo, delivering lyrical firebolts about her frustrations living in a male-dominated world.

That's a beautiful story I think anyone can appreciate, because it's bold, daring and it defied the odds -- hallmarks of the American Dream.

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That's enough to remember Jenni Rivera, even if you didn't know her.

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