Her fans followed her every move, eager for details about her ongoing battle with weight loss and her tumultuous love life. With a popular reality show in its second season on cable channel mun2, millions of album sales to her credit and a reputation as “La Diva de la Banda,” Jenni Rivera was a Mexican-American entertainment icon for whom success was hard earned. And while she was known for her spirited laugh, sense of humor and close family ties, the 43-year-old was also a tireless champion for Latinas.
A victim of domestic abuse during her first marriage, Rivera used her perspective to publicize the issue through her advocacy. In 2010, she was named a celebrity spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) against battered women and domestic violence in Los Angeles. To further commemorate her dedication to battered women, the L.A. City Council officially named August 6th “Jenni Rivera Day.” Rivera had also founded a charitable organization – the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation – which offered supportive services to single mothers and victims of both domestic and sexual abuse.
Known for using her music as a vehicle to make public her own struggles – becoming pregnant while in high school, battling her ex-husband José Trinidad Marín in court over issues of sexual abuse , for which he was eventually sent to prison, and facing the bitter drama following the end of her parent’s 40-year marriage – Rivera was outspoken about being a woman in a male-dominated, Latino culture.
“I wasn’t allowed to have dolls,” she told Dallas News of her childhood growing up in Long Beach, California among four brothers. “My mom bought them for me, but they would tear them apart and get rid of them. They wanted to teach me karate and doing pop-wheelies in the street and playing baseball and playing marbles and being a great wrestler. It kind of made me tough. I got in trouble if I got into a fight and I came back crying,” Rivera said.
The social media aficionada was also outspoken being expanding her commercial appeal beyond the music industry. With a clothing, makeup and fragrance line, as well as production credits on two shows starring her daughter Janney Marin – “Chiquis & Raq-C” and “Chiquis ‘n Control” – Rivera was intent on growing her empire.
“I’m going to be the Mexican Oprah Winfrey and the Mexican Howard Stern as well,” she told the Houston Chronicle in 2010. “I’m going to do radio and TV. I really, really like to talk and get my point across. And I like to listen to my crowd and to my fans.”
With more than 15 million album sales to her credit, Rivera often used her style of Mexican norteña and banda music to publicize her personal struggles. Songs like 2011’s “La Gran Senora” addressed her mother’s struggle against her father’s infidelity, while the lyrics of her classic hit “Juro Que Nunca Volvere” were about being vulnerable to love – something she knew all too well with three failed marriages.
And Rivera was all too aware of Latinos being vulnerable to laws like Arizona’s SB1070 law, joining the movement as an outspoken immigrant rights activist.
”It doesn’t respect humanity and it’s racist,” said the mother of five at a 2010 rally in Arizona. The recent two-time Mexican Billboard Award winner took to the streets in protest of the law because she shared the indignation of those “who have been targeted by this hateful law that views any Mexican American [sic] or anyone with brown skin as ‘reasonably suspicious,’” according to a press release announcing her involvement with the anti-SB 1070 movement.
Rivera – who told PARADE magazine in August that she was nearly three quarters finished with her autobiography – was also outspoken about issues ranging from education (despite her first pregnancy as a sophomore in high school, she graduated and later went to college to earn her degree in business administration before working in real estate), health (she had a cancerous tumor removed from her breast in 2011), LGBT equality (she performed at the Billboard Awards for Mexican music dressed in purple to show solidarity) and gender equality.
It was this last issue for which she may remembered most, telling reporters at her final press conference following her Dec. 8 concert in Monterrey that “I am a woman like any other and ugly things happen to me like any other women.”
“The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up.”