In 1961, a young Abraham Quintanilla and his band “The Dinos” are rejected by a white restaurant owner for an audition due to racist segregation. They are booked to perform for a Mexican nightclub audience, but a riot ensues when they sing “We Belong Together” and white pop music instead of their Hispanic culture’s preferred Tejano.
In 1981, Abraham is married to Marcela Samora, with three children: Abraham III (nicknamed A.B.), Suzette, and Selena (Rebecca Lee Meza). Abraham discovers Selena’s singing talent and decides to create a band called Selena y Los Dinos, with Selena as lead singer, A.B. on bass, and Suzette on drums. The kids are reluctant at first but begin to enjoy making music. Abraham opens a restaurant called “Papa Gayo’s” and teaches Selena some Tejano songs in Spanish to give her the appeal he lacked within their Mexican culture.
In the 1980s the impacts of Reaganomics on small businesses cause the Quintanillas go bankrupt and lose the restaurant. They move to Corpus Christi, Texas to live with Abraham’s brother. Abraham takes the band on the road to support the family. Selena performs at a carnival to a lackluster reception. During a family outing at the beach Marcela dances to the radio and teaches Selena “The Washing Machine” dance. Selena begins to incorporate more dance and personality into her act. The band’s success, and its members, mature into local success.
In 1990, now teenaged Selena meets guitarist Chris Perez when he auditions for Abraham as the band’s new guitarist. Abraham disapproves of Chris’ wild, heavy metal rocker look and reputation, but allows him to join after Chris agrees to cut his hair and tone down. When Chris’ former rock band members trash a hotel suite, Abraham wants to fire him immediately, but his friendship with Selena has secretly blossomed into romance. She pleads with her father to reconsider, pointing out that he is needed for their upcoming tour to Mexico.
Selena and the Dinos begin their tour of Mexico, but promoters are worried when they discover she does not speak Spanish well, but she quickly wins everyone over with her personality and care for her fans. A show almost goes awry when its larger-than-expected crowd rushes the stage, but Selena calms the crowd and draws them into a joyous performance. She is accepted as “an artist for the people” in Mexico, but Abraham catches her embracing Chris on the tour bus. Enraged, he fires Chris and threatens a heartbroken Selena with disbandment of the Dinos if she follows him.
Selena and Chris continue their secret romance behind Abraham’s back, but hate having to hide their love and want to begin a future together. At their next secret meeting she tells Chris she wants to marry him right away and suggests they elope to the Nueces County Courthouse. They plan to gently break the news to her family, but a radio station announces their marriage and plays “Como La Flor” in celebration. After a while, Abraham tells Selena he is glad she made a mature decision, realizes she felt she had no other choice, and only wants her to be happy. The Quintanillas congratulate them and accept Chris as part of their family and as the guitarist for Los Dinos.
Jose Behar and music executives from EMI Latin attend a Selena concert and believe she can make a successful crossover from Latino music to mainstream pop as Gloria Estefan did. He tells Abraham they want Selena to make an English-language album, with full studio promotion. Abraham is thrilled by the prospect of this longtime dream of industry and cultural acceptance. Selena fulfills another dream and opens her first Selena Etc. boutique, which will feature her fashion designs. She asks her fan-club president Yolanda Saldivar to manage the boutique.
Selena’s album Selena Live! wins a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American album. She celebrates this triumph with her family and begins to record tracks for her crossover album in early 1995. Her future is full of promise, and she talks about starting a family with Chris.
Selena’s staff wants to congratulate her on her success, and mention that they have all chipped in to get her a gift to celebrate. Yolanda says she knows the perfect gift and suggests that they turn all the money over to her so she can shop for it. Yolanda gives Selena a ring that resembles the Faberge eggs she collects, but makes no mention of the rest of the staff who contributed.
Abraham calls Selena to a meeting at Q Productions. He has received calls from angry fans who paid to join her fan club, but never received anything. Other funds that Yolanda has been handling cannot be accounted for, and vital business records are missing. Yolanda is summoned to Q-Productions and confronted by Abraham, Selena, and Suzette. Yolanda denies wrongdoing and says she will find the missing documents. Selena is disappointed and angry that her fans were mistreated.
Selena enjoys her growing success and plays a show at the Houston Astrodome on February 26 that attracts a record breaking crowd. Abraham expresses his pride that she has broken down the cultural and racist barriers and found success.
Tragically, Selena’s dreams are destroyed a month later, when she meets Yolanda to collect her missing business records on March 31. Selena is shot to death by Yolanda at a Corpus Christi motel. Yolanda is arrested after a standoff with the police. As Selena’s family, friends, and fans mourn her death, a montage of the real Selena plays during a candlelight vigil.