In this file photo, Singer Jenni Rivera performs onstage during the 11th annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in 2010.  (Photo by
In this file photo, Singer Jenni Rivera performs onstage during the 11th annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in 2010. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for LARAS) (Kevin Winter)

Nestled between the small urban streets of Hill and Gale in Westside Long Beach is the modest former home of regional Mexican music superstar Jenni Rivera.

It was in this place, which she now affectionately calls her "barrio," that Rivera, like many young Mexican-Americans, 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 a recent interview at her $3 million mansion in the San Fernando Valley, where she now resides.

Rivera, 41, said it was through hard work and perseverance that she was able to exceed her own expectations and become something bigger than she had ever imagined.

To her fans in Mexico and the United States she is known as "La Diva de la Banda" (The Diva of Banda), who has sold more than 20 million records of banda/corrido music - long ballads known for big-band, brass ensembles with heavy emphasis on percussion.

As a female in a male dominated musical genre, she is head of the growing Jenni Rivera empire, which includes a clothing/perfume line and a popular reality show about her family titled "I Love Jenni" that airs on Mun2.

Rivera is also the most famous daughter of a musical family that includes four brothers who have recorded music. Most notable is her oldest brother, Lupillo Rivera, a regional Mexican music star who continues to dominate the charts.


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But, before the glitz and glamour, Rivera said, she was just a young girl trying to find her place in the world.

"It was always a fight between my mom and my dad - my dad wanted me to be a singer and my mom wanted me to have a traditional job like a nurse, teacher or a doctor," said Rivera. "I felt singing would be seen as the easy way out. So, I never wanted to sing because I wanted people to see I was intelligent enough to have a real career."

Rivera was inclined to take her mother's advice and tried having a traditional career, taking on stints as a bank teller and real estate agent in Long Beach. But, eventually her true calling came knocking when her father, Pedro Rivera, began a record company and took the family on swap meet outings to sell records.

Mexican regional music began to take center stage in Rivera's life and the influence it would have on her was inevitable.

"I wasn't allowed to hear English music in the house," she said. "My parents wanted us to listen to the music of Lola Beltran, Pedro Infante and Ramon Ayala. It's what my ears and heart was accustomed to hearing, classic Mexican music."

When she took the leap and began recording at age 23, Rivera was an instant star, primarily because she set herself apart. Her appeal was that she could market to both Mexican-born fans and Mexican-Americans who can relate to her growing up with immigrant parents listening to traditional sounds of banda and norteno music in the United States.

"I think people see me as a true Mexican-American and it attracts them - there is a connection and they can easily identify with me on a lot of levels," Rivera said.

This is clear these days as Rivera's fan base continues to soar. More than 290,000 fans follow her on Twitter and many more have helped her sell out concerts at the Gibson Amphitheatre and Nokia Theatre, and the same is expected for the Staples Center show she has coming up in September.

But the road to success for Rivera has been paved with obstacles that have tested her every step of the way.

At 15, while she was a student at Poly High, Rivera got pregnant. Not wanting to derail her future as a straight-A student, she used the obstacle as inspiration to move forward and transferred to Reid Continuation High School to earn her diploma.

Rivera said she always stood out for her stellar grades and ambition and later she was offered eight scholarships to attend Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach.

"I was one of the very few Mexican-Americans who always made it to honor roll," said Rivera. "I loved school and I always did my best because I needed to have the determination and discipline to accomplish something for my family."

It was as a high school student where she also got together with her first ex-husband, Trinidad Marin, who in 2007 would be found guilty of sexual abuse at Long Beach Superior Court for molesting her oldest daughter and youngest sister.

This was the first of many public scandals Rivera has endured as she has made her way into the spotlight.

In the next few years, Rivera said, she is planning on publishing her official autobiography to detail all of the difficulties and bright moments she has experienced since she left Long Beach.

The book, she said, will help set the record straight about Rivera, just as her reality TV show, "I Love Jenni," has. The show has now completed its first season to wide acclaim and is on the radar of major television networks for the second season.

"It's important for viewers to see family is important to me," said Rivera. "I can be this huge artist but at the end of the day I am just a mom trying to make ends meet just like I was when I was living in a garage in Long Beach."

On the series, Rivera shows her five children - Chiquis, 25; Jackie, 21; Michael, 19; Jenica, 13; and Johnny, 10 - that she still has the same ravenous ambition and is still seeking to reach her ultimate potential.

In June, she will make her acting debut alongside Edward James Olmos in "Filly Brown," an urban drama to premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. She is also negotiating with Plaza Mexico in Lynwood to open a boutique where she would like to showcase her jean and sportswear line.

On top of this, Rivera said she would like to get the ball rolling to create her own talk show to fill a void she said she sees on television.

"The goal would be to go mainstream into the homes of people who are not used to having a Mexican-American on their television set all day," said Rivera. "I think it would draw a lot of people in."

Rivera said as an artist she sees herself as a role model for her fans.

In the past few years, she has received numerous accolades for her philanthropy and community involvement with battered women.

This month she was one of the recipients of the California Latino Legislative Caucus Latino Spirit Awards held in Sacramento. Next month she will be inducted into Poly High's Hall of Fame, joining past honorees such as actress Cameron Diaz and rapper Snoop Dogg.

"When you are commended for giving back, it feels great," she said. "When you are able to come out from poverty and difficulty and help other people, it is very satisfying."

Rivera said she is looking forward to returning to Long Beach to receive the honor at Poly High. The city, she said, is a place where she not only grew up, but also was taught a valuable lesson about life that has helped her achieve her success.

"I remember the best advice I ever got was, `Don't wait for someone else to believe in you, believe in yourself,' " Rivera said. "So, that's what I did. I believed in myself and never stopped."

Brenda Duran is a Long Beach freelance writer.