Jenni Rivera, “Diva of Banda” empowers women 5 years after tragic plane crash

Story by Irene Brizuela / @dear_ireene, Karen Ramirez / @karennsookewl and Amanda Rodriguez / @arodmandy - Photos by Amanda Rodriguez

DECORATIONS:Portraits and paintings created by Jenni Rivera fans are displayed throughout the Rivera family living room.

With the 5-year anniversary of the tragic airplane crash and death of LBCC graduate Jenni Rivera approaching, students remember what an impact she made for them.

Michelle Ruiz, 21, a communications major, said Wednesday, Dec. 6, “If she can do it, I can do it too. I see her as a role model. She wasn’t a model, but she was real.”

Dolores Janney “Jenni” Rivera (July 2, 1969-Dec. 9, 2012), better know as “La Diva de la Banda,” was a Mexican-American singer, songwriter, actress, philanthropist and spokeswoman.

She began her career in 1992 and became the best-selling regional Mexican artist of all time in a music genre dominated by men, being nominated for four Latin Grammy nominations and 21 Latin Billboard Music Awards, among many other honors. She died in a plane crash in Iturbide, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on her way home from a tour.

Although she was born at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Rivera’s roots are in Long Beach.

FANS: The 5-year anniversary of Rivera’s death is approaching Saturday, Dec. 9. Fans are adding decorations.

She attended Garfield Elementary School, Stephens Middle School and Long Beach Poly High School until she got pregnant her sophomore year and attended Reid Senior High School, from which she graduated valedictorian of her class with eight scholarships. She later attended LBCC originally for the nursing program. She later opted for business and obtained an associates of arts. Her family recently found her diploma.

She was a single mom while attending LBCC from 1987-1989. She lived in a garage and had her car stolen so she had to ride her bike to commute. Rivera’s sister, Rosie Rivera, said Jenni was about eight months pregnant with her second child when she would bike from her house to the daycare where she took her daughter, Janney “Chiquis” Rivera, and then she would bike to LBCC and later to work at Bank of America.

Rosa Amelia “Rosie” Rivera, 36, Rivera’s younger sister, chief executive officer of Jenni Rivera Enterprises and television personality, on Monday, Dec. 4, shared her sister’s experience as a student and some personal memories of the impact she had in the community. “She always recommended the nursing program at LBCC more than Cal State Long Beach. She always believed in it.”

REMEMBERING: Samantha Flores, Jenni’s niece, plays near decorated tree while fans add ornaments and lights to it.

Rosie recalled during an interview  at her mother’s home in Lakewood, that Jenni took her to LBCC when she was about 7 years old to show off the bunnies. “I just fell in love. Every college student was amazing and I think she purposefully did that to say this is what you can do. And at that age I vowed I’m going to LBCC. And I did.” Knowing her inspiration to be a college student started at LBCC, Rosie decided to attend LBCC her senior year of high school before attending U.C. Irvine.

Jenni had a passion for real estate and became a singer at the same time. “She really loved real estate. She fell in love with business while doing nursing,” Rosie said, “but she really loved real estate. She became a singer by accident. She said, ‘I’ll do whatever pays the bills and feeds my kids.’”

Jenni wanted to convert her first dream home in Corona into a refuge for battered women. After her death, the family wanted to pursue that dream. They staged a concert on July 2, 2015, in her name, Jenni Vive, and everything collected was invested back into Long Beach, more specifically into Jenni’s dream the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation. “We are like Walt Disney’s brother. Walt Disney came up with all the dreams and the brother just executed them.”

Rosie recalls her having a special place in her heart for Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. She would visit the hospital to see the children and cancer patients. Rosie said Jenni left Poly in shame because she was a straight A student and became pregnant.

With all the awards she had won in her music career, one of Jenni’s proudest awards was the star she was awarded at Long Beach Poly because, at the time, not many Latinos, especially women,  received the award.

“She genuinely loved the city of Long Beach. Now, we serve Long Beach because they gave back to her,” Rosie said.

Jenni rests at All Souls Cemetery in  “Mommas Garden” in Long Beach. “We had never talked about it, but we knew she would want to be buried in Long Beach,” Rosie said.

The family is developing an inspirational center. Relatives want to give back to the Long Beach community. The center will be a museum displaying her clothes, artifacts and dresses, offering free music classes for children, counseling for women, parenting classes and either free or low-cost child care services.

The City of Long Beach is leasing a building to the family at a low cost. “The more children we help, it can be rent-free if we do it correctly. If we could alleviate child care, the things mothers could do.” The goal would be to help struggling women in the community so they can afford to pay for school and other necessities for their families. They plan to have it open by July 2018 for Jenni’s birthday.