On July 2, a few blocks from the famous hip-hop intersection of 21st and Lewis in Long Beach, there was a dedication ceremony for Jenni Rivera Memorial Park. More than two years after the Mexican-American singer nicknamed La Diva de la Banda died in a plane crash, some say on the cusp of English-language crossover fame, hundreds of her fans — nearly all of them immigrant women from the northern states of Mexico — huddled in front of a 50-foot-long city-commissioned mural to pay their respects.
Some of the women had walked a few blocks with their mothers and children; some drove from cities and states far away. Many wore homemade Jenni Rivera T-shirts, with glamorous photos of the Long Beach–bred singer ironed on the chest. A few cried as Rivera's father, Pedro, who continues to operate an important regional Mexican music record label based in Long Beach, sang one of his daughter's most popular songs. There were handmade signs that proclaimed “Jenni Vive!” — Jenni lives. A Jenni Rivera drag queen donned a dress with colorful butterfly wings.
La Mariposa del Barrio. That's what Jenni Rivera's army of loyal fans call her: the Butterfly of the Barrio. Her life story — and her transformation from caterpillar to butterfly — is worthy of a Lifetime movie, filled with teenage pregnancies, sexual and emotional abuse and, through it all, a drive to prove wrong the naysayers who thought that the corrido-singing men of the Mexican regional music scene would never accept a female star.
It's cool if you've never heard of Jenni Rivera before. Not many in the English-speaking world have. But to her female fans on both sides of the border, Rivera's success-against-all-odds story gave them confidence and hope.
With Rivera gone almost three years, her estate (run by her sister Rosie with help from her parents and five children) continues to dole out posthumous books, albums and products that are quickly gobbled up by loyal fans. The latest, a book called Jenni Vive: Unforgettable, Baby!, came out this week on Atria Books, just in time for Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. It's the first attempt by her family to define the way people remember a woman whose life was as tumultuous as a telenovela.
Prior to this, there was an autobiography, written by Rivera before she died but published months after her passing, that told her side of the drama and triumphs that surrounded her career. Earlier this year, her oldest daughter, Chiquis, who was not on speaking terms with her mother when she died, released her own version of life with Jenni. Among other things, Chiquis addressed the then-circulating rumors that she had slept with her stepfather, baseball player Esteban Loaza.
Jenni Vive is the first book to be edited by the Rivera estate (aka her family), and it includes photos, quotes, notes and — in our digital-first world — tweets from the singer, collaged and bound together in a glossy, bilingual picture book. It separates these feel-good artifacts into sections like “Childhood,” “Family Life,” “Jenni's Career” and “Giving Back,” and includes snippets from her journal (mostly religious considerations — plus a shopping list), cards she gave to family members (“It's your birthday, so scratch your balls,” she wrote to her brother), iPhone photos of her with her friends, children and grandchildren, never-before-seen concert images and more from the Rivera family's personal files.
Rivera's legacy, as presented in Jenni Vive, is as glossy as the pages it's printed on. The book skips over the most difficult details of her life, showing happy photos of her and Loaza on their wedding day (she filed for divorce two months before her death) and including a grainy old photo of Rivera smiling with her first husband, the man she would eventually take to court for sexually assaulting Chiquis and Rosie.
There is no mention of the stories behind these men, or the feistiness that garnered Rivera so much criticism throughout her career. The book only hints at the troublemaker malandrina persona that made her truly so unforgettable, in the end leaving more questions than answers about who she really was.
If you are not a follower of Rivera's career and are unfamiliar with her trials, Jenni Vive is not the book that will tell them to you (read both her and Chiquis' books instead; they are great companion pieces). This is how the Rivera family wants to remember their Jenni — a badass mujer who balanced motherhood, a career and a continued relationship with God despite the odds stacked against her. It's probably how her fans would like to remember her, too.
“If I had the opportunity to speak to a young immigrant girl who just arrived in the U.S., the advice I would have for her would be: Ask, speak and search, because there are opportunities here,” reads a Jenni Rivera quote that takes up most of the first page in the Jenni Vive book. “And remember that you aren't the only immigrant, nor the last to come to this country. Many that have come before you have succeeded. It is possible!”
After the park dedication ceremony that sweltering day in July, all of her fans filtered out of the central Long Beach park and headed down to the waterfront, where a memorial concert was held. Teenage Latina rapper Becky G performed. Los Tigres del Norte played. Rivera's daughter Chiquis, now absolved of wrongdoing by the rest of the family, used the opportunity to launch her own singing career; her debut album, Ahora, came out one month before and it was her first time performing live onstage.
The name of the concert? Jenni Vive. It would have been the singer's 46th birthday.