She was known in Mexico and the United States as “La Diva de la Banda,” a singer who had sold more than 20 million records of banda music and whose life, loves and losses were well known among her admirers.
Family and fans of Mexican-American music superstar and Long Beach native Jenni Rivera were mourning her death, after the wreckage of a small plane believed to be carrying her was found in northern Mexico and there were no apparent survivors. Rivera was 43.
Born and raised in Long Beach, Calif., Rivera was one of the biggest stars of the Mexican regional style known as grupero music, which is influenced by the norteno, cumbia and ranchero styles.
Throughout Sunday, family and friends gathered at her mother, Rosa Rivera’s, house in Lakewood. Shortly after 5 p.m., her father Pedro Rivera and two of her brothers spoke to the media outside to confirm her death.
“It’s a huge loss for us to have our daughter in heaven, but we have to accept what God gives us,” her father Pedro Rivera said in Spanish.
Brother, Pedro Rivera, Jr. added, “We suffer over how she left us. She went through so much and survived so much, and now to lose her like this.”
“We want to say thanks to all the fans,” brother Gustavo Rivera added, through tears.
Jenni Rivera grew up on Long Beach’s westside — an area she called “the barrio.”
Despite her international celebrity, friends and neighbors said Rivera never forgot the people she grew up with.
Roberto Arzate, 45, was a longtime friend and part of the tight-knit neighborhood. His brothers and sisters grew up playing baseball with Rivera and her family. Rivera was the godmother to his one of his sisters. She stayed in touch, giving out concert tickets and inviting the friends to her Encino home.
“It hurts. We grew up in the same neighborhood,” he said Sunday, still in shock.
In a 2011 interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Rivera said as a young Mexican American, she straddled two cultures and learned to embrace her roots, which eventually would catapult her to mega-stardom.
“Growing up in Long Beach, I learned to face the world. I also learned that I wanted more for myself and wanted to become something,” said Rivera during interview at her $3 million Encino mansion overlooking the San Fernando Valley.
Even before authorities located the downed plane Sunday afternoon, fans from as far as Orange County visited her Encino home as word spread that Rivera was feared dead. Some fans simply parked their cars near the 10,000-square-foot gated house, nestled against the hills which she bought in 2009.
Many said they had grown up on Rivera’s banda and norte music, with lyrics that sometimes criticized men and drug traffickers. Earlier in the day, while her small private jet was still considered missing, some fans speculated that drug traffickers had perhaps captured her plane.
While her music drew many toward her, it was Rivera’s story of humble beginnings growing up in Long Beach, as well as her Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”-like attitude toward life, her three marriages, her five children, and her sense of giving back, fans said.
Though fans said they had a hunch her plane had crashed and she had not survived, throughout the day they held on to hope.
“Somehow, we still hope she will be found alive,” said Adrian Elizarraras, who along with his wife Dayeni Cervantes, drove to Encino from Anaheim just to see where Rivera lived and to be with other fans.
“My wife has been following her music for a long time,” Elizarraras said.
“She’s seen her in concert four times.”
Carmen Chavez, a housekeeper at a home nearby, said she would see the singer take morning walks. She even stopped Rivera once and asked her in Spanish “Are your really the Jenni?”
“She was well known in the neighborhood,” Chavez said. “Many of us can’t believe what’s happened.”
Israel Vicente said he lives down the street from Rivera, and knew that she frequented restaurants on Ventura Boulevard such as Farfalla.
“I liked her music,” Vicente said. “She is known as a Diva, but she’s also is a role model to so many people.
“We’re really sad about it,” added fan Araceli Romero of Encino.
“I’m sad because she was an inspiration to many in the Latino community,” said Cesar Carrera, of Woodland Hills. He and his brother Eric Carrera also drove up to the home.
“She not only did a lot for the Latino community, but for many people who were homeless,” Eric Carrera added.
Everyone from singers to celebrities to clubs that once hosted Rivera offered condolences to the singer’s family on Twitter.
“My heart breaks for the loss of Jenni Rivera & everyone on the plane. My prayers go out to her family. We lost a legend today,” wrote Eva Longoria.
Rivera recently won two Billboard Mexican Music Awards: Female Artist of the Year and Banda Album of the Year for “Joyas prestadas: Banda.” She has also been nominated various times for Latin Grammys.
The singer, businesswoman and actress had her own reality shows including “I Love Jenni” and “Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis and Raq-C” and her daughter’s “Chiquis `n Control.” She had recently signed a deal with ABC to develop a sitcom about a Latina single mom.
On Saturday night, Rivera had given a concert before thousands of fans in Monterrey. After the concert she gave a press conference during which she spoke of her emotional state following her recent divorce from former Major League Baseball pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who played for teams including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I can’t get caught up in the negative because that destroys you. Perhaps trying to move away from my problems and focus on the positive is the best I can do. I am a woman like any other and ugly things happen to me like any other woman,” she said Saturday night. “The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up.”
The mother of five children and grandmother of two had announced in October that she was divorcing Loaiza after two years of marriage. It was her third marriage.
She was proud to present herself as a Latina woman struggling to give a good life to her children.
“I am the same as the public, as my fans,” she told The Associated Press in an interview last March.