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One of the sweetest TCU girls ever died last Christmas.
By Bud Kennedy '76
Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist
Nancy was only 33 when doctors found the cancer. A month later, concert pianist Van Cliburn arranged the music at her funeral. Philanthropist Ed Bass helped carry her coffin through the weeping crowd that filled Broadway Baptist Church.
Nancy Najera was from Juarez, Mexico. She was not supposed to be here.
She came for college, and stayed. Fort Worth loved her.
Nobody wanted to send her "home."
I think of Nancy whenever I hear someone bash Mexico's people, or call immigrants a burden, or complain about the Spanish language that Tejanos share with our cousins south of the border.
During Nancy's six years at TCU, she studied advertising and public relations, and in the process acquired what might be considered a PhD in charm.
As a student, she waited tables at Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant, which means she met almost everyone in Fort Worth. Those who eluded Nancy's spell there met her at social events, where her first local friends brought her along as their enchanting new pal from Mexico.
By the time she died, she had become the customer in some of America's finest restaurants, traveling the country as a guest with Cliburn's concert entourage. Twice, out-of-town newspaper society columnists mentioned the dynamic young woman as a visiting celebrity.
Along the way, she never lost her passion for her native land. At TCU she left future international students notes on how to adjust. She encouraged her Fort Worth friends to start learning Spanish, and because of her, more than 40 did.
She loved art, music, film, and especially cooking. At her funeral, a friend said Nancy handled us the way she handled poblano peppers – lifting us close to the flame of life, turning us carefully so we would get cooked but not burned, then mixing us all together with just the right ingredients in her own style.
In the church, Nancy's working-class family from Chihuahua sat in front of tearful businessmen from the Rivercrest neighborhood of Fort Worth. Outside, their chauffeurs waited as a mariachi band played the tango song "Las Golondrinas," and the men helped carry Nancy to the hearse for her final ride home to the Mexico she loved.
She is unforgettable. So her friends founded the Nancy Najera Memorial Scholarship fund to make sure TCU meets more spirited young women from Latin America, plus a cultural endowment to sponsor campus events featuring the music and dance of Mexico. [To contribute, please write email@example.com, or call 817-257-6965.]
Only two weeks before she died, the U.S. House voted to punish the Nancy Najeras of America as aggravated felony criminals.
Nancy was no felon. She was never a burden.
She was a great gift. We thank TCU.
Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy '76 has been a writer and editor for 35 years. He has toiled at all four major Fort Worth and Dallas newspapers of the era and worked in every section of the paper except business news. Since 1985 he has written more than 1,000 restaurant columns.
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