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Latin superstar Jenni did it all

Latentertainer Jenni Riverwho died plane crash last week shown earlier this year.  |  AP FILE PHOTO

Latin entertainer Jenni Rivera, who died in a plane crash last week, shown earlier this year. | AP FILE PHOTO

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:23AM

Like so many others, I was shocked by the sudden death of Latin superstar Jenni Rivera.

Just hours before the plane she and her entourage were traveling in went down last weekend, the Diva of Banda had performed before thousands in Monterrey, Mexico.

Many in mainstream America might have been unfamiliar with Rivera, despite the Mexican-American entertainer having record sales rivaling Taylor Swift and a host of other successful businesses. But that was just about to change, and it’s that lost opportunity for not only Rivera but Latinos in general that has me wistful.

In the week before her death there was word Rivera had a sitcom deal in development. There were a couple things in that nugget of news that caught my interest. For one, the deal was with ABC, a network that knows how to do smart comedy. I also like the treatment ABC has given to Latin characters in previous shows, such as Gabby and Carlos in “Desperate Housewives” and Heather Cruz in the short-lived “GCB.” Something in the network’s fictional Latin folks always rings true with me.

Plus, the sitcom was under the wing of Robert Horn, one of the writers of “Designing Women.” The late ’80s-early ’90s show was based on the lives of four women running an Atlanta interior design firm. The characters managed to embrace the gentility of the Southern female while being independent and outspoken. A lot of men didn’t get it, but hey, they weren’t the target audience.

By the sounds of it, “Jenni,” as Rivera’s comedy was to be called, was going to do something similar — celebrate some and break other stereotypes of Latinas. Her character was going to be a strong middle-class Latina, a single mom and businesswoman, according to published reports. Rivera’s “Jenni” was going to show how an empowered Latina lives and works, despite a culture that often reminds its women they need a man — any papi — to have a complete life.

And there’s no doubt that Rivera was the perfect choice. She lived that life. Here was a woman who pushed her way to the top of the male-dominated world of banda (regional Mexican) music. She was good with numbers, and used those skills to run her businesses — among them a line of jeans that understood the body of curvy Latinas.

Despite career triumphs, she wasn’t able to achieve a similar success in love. No matter; she used her music to call out the bad behavior of men in relationships.

In a role on network TV, Rivera would have gotten to know a side of Latins many forget exists. Despite being a huge star in Latin America, she was born in the United States. Like so many Latinos, she spoke English just as well as Spanish. She was a wonderful example that you could embrace your Latin roots while still being 100 percent American.

Candid about her own struggles, she spoke of her resolve after her last concert: “The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up.”

Her Latin fans loved her honesty. I think mainstream America would have taken her into their hearts, too. I’m sorry we won’t see how that all would have played out.

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