A Tribute to Olga Nájera-Ramírez

Andrea Bornn, Class of 2015

Photo: OlgaThe first day that I met Professor Olga Nájera-Ramírez, I was a clueless sophomore sitting on the cold hardwood dance floor of the OPERS Multipurpose Room. I waited with excitement because I was eager to begin my first dance lessons with UCSC Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas (Los Mejicas), a student-run Mexican folklore dance troupe. The one thing that has forever stayed in my memory was how cariñosa she was in introducing the group. She emphasized how much she cared about the returning members and showed equal affection for future members like myself. She said that if we ever needed her assistance, whether it was in regards to folklórico, academics, work lives, or even our personal lives, she would be there for us. Los Mejicas is a student-run group where the students are in charge of the daily practices and organization of all the events. But whenever we need assistance we go to her. When we need to know more about a dance style, when we need contacts, or when we need to resolve differences and disputes among the members, Professora Nájera-Ramírez steps in to give us guidance and support. On that first day of introduction, she was genuine and profound. At that moment, she had set a tone within Mejicas that was warm and welcoming.

I had a difficult freshman year because I was trying my hardest to do things on my own and be independent, and along the way I made mistakes academically and financially. My biggest struggle was learning how to accept that I am dyslexic and how to work with this disability instead of against it. Los Mejicas gave me what I was lacking in my other coursework-- confidence. The thing with Los Mejicas is that it gave me affirmation that Iwas good at something. I was not receiving this kind of positive feedback from my academic life. In my classes I felt loneliness,a kind of cold distance, and a feeling that we have to make it on our own. But with Los Mejicas, we were doing it together. We didn’t need to wait until the end of the quarter to get feedback and know how we were doing. All I needed was to work through a small period of practice time to see immense improvements in myself. When I could master a style of dance, I felt like I could do anything. The most important thing to learning folclórico was to learn technique, técnica, and then when you have this foundation down you can take off with it. Once we had a good foundation, we had the skill sets to excel as folclórico dancers. I felt like my other academic classes did not instill this sort of foundational technique. While in Mejicas, I was given the confidence that I could actually do it.

After my sophomore year when I joined Los Mejicas, my grades started to improve and I gained more confidence in my academic classes. I can say for sure that Los Mejicas became the driving force behind my own graduation this spring 2015 with Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. My plan after graduation is to apply for the Peace Corps and pursue a career in medicine and public health. Dance is about gathering together, socializing with others, and despite all the challenges, forgetting and feeling great during the moment of a performance. As a Peace Corps volunteer I wish to share my dances, what I have learned from Los Mejicas, and learn dances from the people at my fieldsite as a means of greater understanding and creating a greater sense of well-being.

When I heard that Professora Olga Nájera-Ramírez would soon retire, I couldn’t help but to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had an immediate sadness that the generation of students after me wouldn’t have the same opportunities and support like I did. Yet knowing her for the time that I have had, I can say that she very much deserves to retire with all the pride in the world. Professor Nájera-Ramírez’s retirement is and should be a celebration of all the contributions that she has given to Anthropology, her students at UCSC, members of Los Mejicas, and folklórico enthusiasts well outside of UCSC. She is looked up to as an intellectual, a folklorist, a Chicana, a maestra, a dancer, a mentor, an advisor, a daughter, an aunt, a mother, and as an influential woman. Thank you Doctora Nájera-Ramírez for inspiring me to follow my passion and dreams no matter how hard and unattainable they might have seemed. It has been an honor to have been your student.