“El Chico Del Apartamento 512” by Selena Quintanilla-Perez, English translation of lyrics

“The Guy From Apartment 512” Lyrics and Cultural Meaning

Album: Amor Prohibido (Forbidden Love), 1994
Style: Tejano, Mexican cumbia
Country: USA (Texas)
Listen: YouTube

Translation:

Cada día es igual por mi pasillo.
Nunca llegó a mi puerta sin oír el chiflido
De un chavo que me dice que me está esperando.
Lo que él debería hacer es ir y darse un baño.

Every day is the same down my hallway.
I never get to my door without hearing the whistle
Of some guy who tells me that he’s waiting for me.
What he should do is go take a bath.

Y un aburrido me detiene otra vez,
Y yo le finjo interés,
Cuando de pronto sale del ascensor
La imagen de mis sueños,
Él que yo quiero para mi dueño…

And some bore stops me again,
And I feign interest,
When suddenly the elevator opens and out steps
The image of my dreams,
He who I want to belong to…


[Chorus]

El chico del apartamento 512,
Él que hace a mi pobre corazón saltar,
Es a quien le hago cartas noche y día
Que no puedo entregar.

The guy from apartment 512,
He who makes my poor heart jump,
It’s him who I write letters to night and day
That I can’t deliver.

El chico del apartamento 512,
Es él quien me hace tartamuda y más,
Es en quien yo pienso y sueño noche y día,
Él, solo él.

The guy from apartment 512,
It’s he who makes me stutter and more,
It’s who I think and dream about night and day,
Him, only him.


Y un viejo me invita, “chica, ven a verme,”
Y le digo que no me caen los viejos rabos verdes.
Y camino a mi cuarto muy lentamente
Con la esperanza de verlo.
Y cuando sale a caminar,
Me saluda con una sonrisa
Que de veras me conquista.

And an old man invites me, “girl, come to see me,”
And I tell him that I don’t like dirty old men.
And I walk to my room very slowly
Hoping to see him.
And when he goes out to walk,
He greets me with a smile
That truly conquers me.

[Chorus: “El chico del apartamento 512…”]

Pero hoy por fin me he decidido de veras,
Todo mi amor a confesarle.
Toco su puerta y se me enchina la piel,
Y me contesta una güera,
Y mi corazón se quiebra…

But today finally I have decided for real,
All my love to confess to him.
I knock on his door and get goosebumps,
And a blonde girl answers the door,
And my heart breaks…

[Chorus: “El chico del apartamento 512…“]

De veras que sentí mi corazón quebrándose,
Cuando de repente me pregunto,
¿Buscabas a mi hermano?

I really felt my heart breaking,
When suddenly she asks me,
Were you looking for my brother?

[Chorus: “El chico del apartamento 512…“]

El chico del apartamento 512,
Él que hace a mi pobre corazón saltar,
Es a quien le hago cartas noche y día
Que no puedo entregar.

The guy from apartment 512,
He who makes my poor heart jump,
It’s him who I write letters to night and day
That I can’t deliver.

El chico del apartamento 512,
El chico del apartamento 512,
El chico del apartamento 512

The guy from apartment 512,
The guy from apartment 512,
The guy from apartment 512…

Translation Notes:

Nunca llegó a mi puerta sin oír el chiflido
De un chavo que me dice {que} [me está esperando].

I never get to my door without hearing the whistle
Of some guy who tells me {that} [he’s waiting for me].

chavo, chico – both mean “guy” or “boy”. Selena uses chavo to refer to the man who whistles at her, and chico to refer to the man she has a crush on. It is only to distinguish the two people. Otherwise, the words are very similar.


Y yo le {finjo} interés

And I {feign} interest
And I {feign} him interest
And I {fake} interest for him.
And I {pretend to be} interested in him

I left out the “him” or “for him” or “in him” because the context was obvious from the previous line introducing the bore, or boring person. The short version fits the music pace better.


Cuando [de pronto] {sale} (del ascensor)
La imagen de mis sueños

When [suddenly] (the elevator/lift opens and) {out steps}
The image of my dreams

When [suddenly] {he/they come out} (from the elevator/lift) *literal
The image of my dreams

I translated the first way because the Spanish sentence structure puts the focus of the subject at the end, right before the line “the image of my dreams”.

Also, I use un elevador to mean “an elevator” or “a lift” and that is more common in Mexican Spanish, but un ascensor is more common in some regions of the USA. That is curious to me since I assumed Tejano Spanish (Texan Spanish) would follow Mexican Spanish more closely.


Él que yo quiero para mi dueño

He who I want to belong to
He who I want as my master [*literal]

This sounds a little awkward a few decades later, but she means it in the way we still say “I belong to you and you belong to me”, or “I’m yours!”

She doesn’t mean that she wants a dominant/submissive relationship.


Y un viejo me invita, “chica, ven a verme,”
Y le digo que no me caen los viejos rabos verdes.

And an old man invites me, “girl, come to see me,”
And I tell him that I don’t like dirty old men.

The idiomatic phrase “viejo rabo verde” literally means “green tail old man”. It refers to old men who exclusively creep on young women.


Me saluda con una sonrisa
Que de veras me conquista.

He greets me with a smile
That truly conquers me.

He greets me with a smile
That really wins me over.

The verb conquistar (to conquer) is used in courtship language to mean “to win over”. It has a positive connotation in this context.


Toco su puerta y se me enchina la piel,
Y me contesta una güera,
Y mi corazón se quiebra..
.
Cuando de repente me pregunto
¿Buscabas a mi hermano?

I knock on his door and get goosebumps,
And a blonde girl answers the door,
And my heart breaks…
…When suddenly she asks me,
Were you looking for my brother?

Yeah, sure, “me contesta” can be translated as “she answers me” or “I get answered by” and I don’t need to repeat “door” there. But there is something more important!

The fact that this other woman was blonde is not a minor detail. In the context of Selena Quintanilla’s rise to fame in the 1990s, a clear distinction that everyone noticed was that Selena did not fit the beauty standards of the English-speaking music industry at that time. Selena was a brown woman with black hair, plump lips, indigenous Mexican eyes, and a curvy figure. She didn’t fit the typical celebrity look and she was beloved for that by her Mexican-American fans.

With colorism and anti-indigenous discrimination in the background, these two stanzas play with emotions. First, the song’s protagonist gets the courage to knock on apartment 512’s door to confess her love. The door is opened not by the guy she seeks, but by an unknown blonde woman who might be his girlfriend. Heartbreaking! Heartbreaking because he might be unavailable but also because he may prefer blondes, and how can a brown girl compete in a society of white beauty standards? It is a heavy sense of defeat. Then the song takes a turn in the second stanza when the blonde woman speaks:

¿Buscabas a mi hermano?

Were you looking for my brother?

And the song resumes its cheerful beat. This woman is the sister, not the girlfriend! Our protagonist still has a chance for love. There is no conflict and we are left with hope for her.

This song’s album, Amor Prohibido (Forbidden Love), is full of songs that speak to the working-class brown Mexican-American experience. I used to own the cassettes. I loved them so much!


De veras que sentí mi corazón quebrándose,
Cuando de repente me pregunto…

I really felt my heart breaking,
When suddenly she asks me…

Alternatives:

[De veras] (que) {sentí} mi corazón quebrándose

[Truly] {I felt} (that) my heart was breaking
[Really] (that) {I felt} my heart breaking


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