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Arts & Culture

Chris Perez, husband of slain Tejana icon Selena, tells of romance, suffering

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In one of the final chapters of his book To Selena, With Love (out March 6), Selena's widower Chris Perez mentions that Abraham Quintanilla, his former father-in-law, once called him "a cancer" in the family. "I turned out to be benign. Nobody detected the real cancer, which appeared in the form of a short, homely woman named Yolanda Saldivar."

That "nobody" includes himself, who wonders what would have happened had he told Quintanilla or the police about the fact that Saldivar, the former president of Selena's fan club and manager of her boutiques, was carrying a gun days before she killed the Tejano superstar on March 31, 1995.

The book describes how, during one of several meetings between Selena and Saldivar leading to the murder, Saldivar showed Selena the gun she had bought in San Antonio for "protection" against unnamed "threats." Saldivar had been accused of embezzling funds from the fan club, and only big-hearted Selena was willing to give her friend second, third, and fourth chances, even though it was obvious Saldivar was lying left and right. Perez says he carries "a certain sense of guilt" about not telling anyone about Yolanda's gun. "What if I had told the police? Or Abraham? Who knows how Abraham would have reacted?" he writes. "Maybe he would have called in a favor with the police and had them scare Yolanda, and it would have been over. I still live with those questions."

Yes, Selena had a big heart, but she was no fool: Saldivar held important tax documents Selena desperately needed before she could dismiss the fan club president — she tried to keep her trust until the very end. The book describes the last night Selena spent at home with Perez and her father-in-law, and includes her last photo alive. Taken by Perez's father, it shows a focused Selena paying bills sitting at a desk, with Chris beside her.

The characters in the book are to type: Abraham Quintanilla, the over-protective father who trusted no one and who reluctantly accepted Chris into the family. Yolanda Saldivar, the deranged "small, sad, ugly little woman" who stole, lied, and killed. And Selena, the perfect goddess of goodness whose heart was spotlessly humble and whose talent and drive was unparalleled. Perez chose to highlight his relationship with Selena as a love story cut short, but he includes occasions when they argued (the time when Selena asked him to get rid of a Kiss CD because she didn't like the cover, or the time when he threw a guitar across the bedroom during an argument he blamed on road stress).

But as candid and entertaining his story with Selena is, the book is also about his relationship with Selena's father. Perez writes about the fear Quintanilla inspired but also about his heart and loving embraces. Because of this, the book doesn't come across as bitter nor accusatory, but rather as a sincere description of a complex father-in-law Perez feared but also respected and admired. According to Perez, Abraham didn't want Selena to open a boutique. "What do you want to do that for?" Abraham reportedly told her. "That's a crazy idea. You're making plenty of money and you don't have enough time as it is. Why don't you just sit back and enjoy life?"

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