Mayela Mejia first met Jenni Rivera 10 years ago -- on stage at the El Paso County Coliseum.
"People were asking me if I was her sister. She brought me up to the stage to see what all the ruckus was about. She said, 'Meet my sister,' " Mejia recalled.
They stayed friends, communicating two to three times a month. Mejia, who often picked Rivera up at the airport, was stunned by the news of the singer's death Sunday in a plane crash in Mexico.
"I just can't believe she's gone," Mejia said.
She echoed the sentiments of countless
fans, friends and associates in Mexico and American border states, including El Paso, where the popular singer was known as La Diva de la Banda, or the diva of banda, a fusion of pop, cumbia and ranchera music she helped popularize.
While investigators sort out what happened to the Learjet 25 that crashed early Sunday, killing the 43-year-old Rivera and six others, local fans tried to sort out their feelings.
"A lot of the fans are still in disbelief ... She was very well loved here," said Maria Galnares, promotions director for El Gato (KYSE-FM, 94.7).
The Entravision radio station, which carried Rivera's syndicated radio show on Wednesdays, filled its airwaves, website and Facebook page with the singer's music, pictures, news and tributes.
It will dedicate its programming to her from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, and listeners will be able to offer their condolences on a banner that will be sent to the Rivera family. It will be available at Romeo's Discoteque, 9101 Gateway West, between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., Galnares said. A candlelight vigil will be from 6 to 7 p.m. outside the nightclub, and the station will broadcast live from 8 to 11 p.m.
Station staff members are discussing a possible memorial concert in El Paso, where Rivera performed numerous times since the mid-1990s, including a Sept. 28 concert at UTEP's Don Haskins Center.
"I am planning on doing something," Galnares said.
It would be "part of a serious vigil, but, at the same time, a celebration of her life, which is what she would have wanted," Galnares said.
El Paso promoter Lazaro Megret, who worked several times with Rivera, said, "I'm doing bad because of the news."
Megret was in talks with Rivera about a possible 23-date tour next year. Rivera wanted to limit the number of shows to cut down on traveling and spend more time with her family, he said.
"She said, 'I don't want to fly that many weeks. I don't want to jinx my life,' " Megret recalled from Miami. "She was feeling something, know what I mean?"
Megret, who attended Rivera's 2010 wedding to former baseball pitcher Esteban Loaiza, said she was concerned about her family, including her five children and two grandchildren.
"She was tired, she was afraid," he said.
He worked on three of Rivera's concert tours, including the "La Gran Senora" mariachi tour that brought her to the Coliseum on May 15, 2010, and May 7, 2011, and Juarez's Poliforo Juan Gabriel on July 16, 2011.
Megret said she was easy to work with.
"She was very sharp. She was a nice person, very friendly. She would make everybody happy with no complaints."
Rivera had conquered Mexican radio and TV, selling 15 million albums, most of them since her 2008 album "Jenni" debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Latin charts, her first to accomplish the feat.
She was going into the second season of her "I Love Jenni" reality show, one of two she produced for Mexico's Mun2 channel, and was a coach on "La Voz ... Mexico," a TV singing competition.
Rivera hosted her own radio show and ran Jenni Rivera Enterprises and the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation.
She had set her sights on crossing over into U.S. pop culture, recently signing with CAA, one of Hollywood's biggest agencies.
"My top goal is to be the Mexican Oprah Winfrey," she told the El Paso Times last September. "I know I have something to say, and people like to listen.
"I really feel and believe that's what my future will be, but I always thought it would be later on, when I'm done singing and ready to start a new career."
Rivera had a role in the independent film "Filly Brown," which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. She was developing a program for the ABC network. Mejia, who communicated with her a few times a month, said Rivera also was writing her autobiography.
She described Rivera as "down to earth." Mejia, who ran for the El Paso City Council in 2010, said that Rivera, who autographed a table for employees of the Villa del Mar restaurant on El Paso's East Side, had no fears about performing in Juarez and once gave a $10,000 check to the low-income family of an El Paso girl who used a wheelchair.
"That's the kind of person she was, always trying to help," Mejia said.
Rivera, born July 2, 1969, had a modest upbringing as one of five children in a musical family in Long Beach, Calif., where her parents settled after moving from Mexico. Brother Lupillo Rivera also is a singer.
The thrice-married Rivera had the first of her five children while still in high school. The music she's made since the late '90s often dealt with physical abuse and infidelity.
Her strong, fearless persona resonated with fans, particularly women.
"She was what you see is what you get," El Gato's Galnares said.
Mejia, 45, thinks they got along well because they were both single mothers.
"We had so much in common. We both got divorced on April 5, 2003. We were both in very interesting relationships," Mejia, a mother of three, said. "We connected."
Doug Pullen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him on Twitter at @dougpullen
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