Jenni Rivera and Arizona's immigration law

  • Article by: LAWRENCE DOWNES , New York Times
  • Updated: December 11, 2012 - 10:36 AM

The celebrity who died in a plane crash Sunday will be remembered for more than her singing.

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Jenni Rivera

Photo: Reed Saxon, Associated Press

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As news of the death of Jenni Rivera, in a plane crash in Mexico, spread on Twitter on Sunday, a divide opened up between the distraught and the bewildered. Those who vowed never to forget her were matched by those who said: "Jenni who?"

The short version is that she was a superstar in the border-straddling world of Mexican regional music, an immigrant's daughter from a musical dynasty who sold millions of albums, became a TV celebrity and led a personal life straight out of a telenovela.

You could search for someone to compare her to in the American pop scene -- Diana Ross, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner maybe? -- but that doesn't get you too far. She was Jenni, "La Diva de la Banda," a party girl with big hair, big hoop earrings and a big, devoted audience that was on the brink of getting much bigger.

She was a native Californian, born and raised in Long Beach, and a proud citizen of Latino America, which is growing bigger and more influential no matter how hard some states and politicians are trying to wish it away. She stayed true to her roots and her fans, always willing to get out of the limousine and ditch the entourage.

She did this most memorably on May 29, 2010, when tens of thousands of protesters converged on Phoenix to denounce Arizona's radical new immigration law. Other big musicians stayed away, or just signed the petition. Rivera showed up.

She walked five miles in scorching heat, and ended up dehydrated, with a migraine. When a worried organizer texted her -- "are u still marching?" -- she replied: "Of course. ... I'm a gangster chick."

She went on to play a full concert and gave a speech, spread widely on YouTube, for immigrant rights and justice for the community she sprang from and never left.

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