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By Charles Lam
And that's what endeared her so much to millions of Mexican women and more than a few males. Rivera was the cousin whom the tías always clucked about; the prima who was a bit too loud, a bit too independent, but successful; the type of woman everyone wanted to be; the American success story Mexican immigrants want for their children. More important, Rivera never forget her hardscrabble roots, peppering her songs and performances with shoutouts to her hometown of "Playa Larga." Though she reveled in luxury (her most recent home was a multimillion-dollar Encino estate), Rivera lived for the fans and always let them know that; her 2007 album, Mi Vida Loca (or "My Crazy Life"), memorably showed her flashing the hand signal for "West side" behind her back as she walked down the red carpet—the real Jenni from the block.
I'll end this obit with the conclusion of my 2003 story, with the parting words Rivera spoke when I asked how society would remember her, words that in retrospect not only sound prophetic, but also prove Rivera had a plan for life even then that wouldn't be stopped:
"They're going to think of a woman who's real. They'll think about a woman who went through hell and back and never gave up. No one else has ever opened doors for me—I opened them myself. And people have a problem with women who do that. They have a problem when we're no longer as passive and submissive as, say, their mothers were growing up. Too bad. I say what I say, and I do what I do. I'm me."
This article appeared in print as "Los Ovarios of Steel: The ballsy, brash, brilliant, too-short life of Mexican regional music queen and Long Beach girl Jenni Rivera."