Olga Nájera-Ramírez named codirector of UCSC Chicano/Latino Research Center

Olga Nájera-Ramírez's appointment this spring as codirector of the UC Santa Cruz Chicano/Latino Research Center (CLRC) is the latest milestone for this Santa Cruz County native.

Nájera-Ramírez, an associate professor of anthropology who specializes in Mexican folklore, is eager to strengthen connections between the university and the community in her new position as codirector of the CLRC. Established in 1992, the center has fostered collaborative work among scholars in the United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America.

"We are doing wonderful, innovative work, and I want to reach out to community members," she said. "People in Mexico City know what we're doing, but do people in Santa Cruz and Watsonville know?"

Much of the center's work focuses on transborder issues that reflect the movement of populations back and forth across the borders of North, Central, and South America. "We're responding to reality," said Nájera-Ramírez. Some of the other research likely to be of interest to the Central Coast region includes in-depth interviews with Watsonville workers in the post-NAFTA era; research on the impacts of globalization; gender, ethnicity, and sexuality; border studies; and media and popular culture.

Nájera-Ramírez's academic work has been informed by her life experience. Before becoming an anthropologist, fieldwork had an entirely different meaning for this daughter of Mexican immigrants who was born and raised in Davenport, 10 miles north of Santa Cruz. As a child, Nájera-Ramírez and her five siblings picked peas at Cascade Ranch each summer to help her mother make ends meet. Her father had died of cancer when Nájera-Ramírez was eight. She recalls her mother admonishing the six youngsters to "get a good education" to escape work in the fields.

Nájera-Ramírez and her siblings took the message to heart. All attended college, and three earned advanced degrees, including a law degree from Harvard University.

While an undergraduate at UCSC, Nájera-Ramírez joined the Mexican folklorico dance group, Los Mejicas, which became an outlet through which she integrated her interests in folklore, social history, Mexico, and education. After completing a double major in history and Latin American studies with honors, she pursued her interest in dance at the Universidad de Guadalajara.

Inspired to continue her studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Nájera-Ramírez earned a master's in Latin American studies and a doctorate in anthropology with a concentration in folklore. She returned to Santa Cruz as an assistant professor of anthropology at UCSC in 1989. The author of La Fiesta de los Tastoanes: Critical Encounters in Mexican Festival Performance, Nájera-Ramírez conducts research on Mexican cultural traditions. A member of the Chicana/Latina Feminisms Research Cluster, Nájera-Ramírez is coeditor of the forthcoming anthology, "Chicana Feminisms: Disruption in Dialogue," which includes innovative interdisciplinary scholarship. With Norma E. Cantú, she has just published Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change.

At UCSC, Nájera-Ramírez has helped shape the Latin American and Latino Studies Department and the CLRC. Over the years, the CLRC has gained international recognition for transdisciplinary and cross-border scholarship on Chicano and Latino issues. More than 60 UCSC faculty members and 16 graduate students in the fields of sociology, literature, education, anthropology, and history of consciousness are doing work on Chicano/Latino themes under the auspices of CLRC, said Nájera-Ramírez, who codirects the center with Patricia Zavella, a professor of Latin American and Latino studies at UCSC.

The center sponsors many cultural events that are open to the public, including film screenings, lectures, and workshops. For a schedule of events, visit the CLRC web site at http://lals.ucsc.edu/clrc/.