Selena at the Swap Meet

She’s never completely left but with the Netflix series, it feels like Selena is currently, an especially strong part of the popular culture. About what she’s meant and how she’s been portrayed. While reading the Los Angeles Times’ roundtable on her album “Dreaming of You” a quarter-century later, it occurred to me that one thing missing from any discussion of her legacy is the swap meet.

I’m talking about the vendors that made her music—and other things associated with her—affordable by selling bootleg Selena merchandise. CDs, tapes, concerts, T-shirts, jackets, anything Selena related, even if it didn’t make sense, someone made it and sold it.  

When she was killed, my dad worked as a janitor at the El Paso Discount Mall, an indoor swap meet open every day except Monday. On the weekends, the parking lot became an outdoor swap meet that curled around the back of the building. That place is now the Walmart by Fred Wilson and Dyer. As part of his pay, he also got a booth to sell whatever he wanted. We sold sports cards and comics—mostly cards. This meant that while my dad worked, I spent every weekend at that swap meet and a few afternoons during the week.

That place was full of Selena bootlegs. To the point that when cops came in, the woman in front who sold wigs, would yell a warning as soon as she saw their car pull up. And then, vendors scrambled to hide whatever fake Selena shit they were selling. It seemed like every other booth was selling something related to Selena. I’m almost certain we sold Selena pogs.  

Not sure how much of Selena’s lasting influence was impacted by this. Probably minimal. But it’s something. In the same way the popularity of Chalino’s music was helped by the black market. In the same way you could buy the latest action movies then, just as you can today. With no online music platform back then, you had to own a physical copy of an album, even if it was a copy. And sometimes, if you lived in certain places where funds were limited, but still wanted to listen to Selena, it made more sense to buy the $5 bootleg version of her album.

That’s why in the mid-1990s, at every swap meet, it didn’t take long to find Selena.    

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