Chronicles of Chicana/o Studies: Vicki Ruiz, a Chicana Scholar

Vicki Ruiz

Vicki Ruiz

Biography

Vicki Ruiz’s passion for women’s histories and oral narratives started in her home as her mother and grandmother narrated stories.  As a result, Ruiz was motivated to search such histories in her local library. From reading and listening to these narratives, history became her passion.  Vicki Ruiz was much more motivated when she met Luisa Moreno and told her “I know what I’m going to do for my dissertation. I’m going to write about you.”  Luisa Moreno replied, “No, you are going to write your dissertation on the cannery workers in southern California. You find these women.” From that moment on, Ruiz began her life’s work in Chicana history.[1]

Currently, Vicki Ruiz, awarded in 2005 as one of the 21 Leaders of the 21st Century, is the Dean of Humanities and a history Professor at the University of California, Irvine.  Yet, these professional titles and awards were never in Vicki Ruiz’s vision.  In an interview with Kate Morris, found in the UCI website, Professor Vicki Ruiz mentions wanting to “become a high school history teacher after completing her bachelor’s at Florida State University.”[2] Although she was a gifted student who had “graduated summa cum laude from FSU,” she did not believe she could go to graduate school because she was “neither rich nor smart.”[3] After much persuasion, Ruiz applied to graduate schools and was accepted to Stanford’s history department.  Under the guidance of Professor Albert Camarillo, Ruiz “became the fourth Mexican-American woman in the United States to receive a doctorate in history” and the first doctorate in such department.[4]

As she was writing her doctoral dissertation, she often questioned herself whether or not she was capable of completing such task.  Throughout her struggle, she always remembered her mother who struggled to receive some sort of education because she had to economically support her own mother and two sisters.  Remembering her mother’s life, Ruiz was motivated to continue in her pursuit to obtain a higher education.  She states, “When I attended Stanford, she and my father did [everything possible to] send me money every month.  My mother always emphasized education–the education she felt she could never get herself.”[5] As many first generation college students can relate, her mother’s dream became Ruiz’s reality, which she was able to pursuit due to her dedication and enormous family support.

As a professor at UCI, Ruiz guides students to fulfill their educational dreams.  Vicki Ruiz states that since 1996 she has helped fourteen students receive their Ph.D. and that “most of these scholars have received tenure-track, tenured or public history positions.”[6] Ruiz states that “one of the nicest and perhaps most astute comment made about [her] as an instructor from a former graduate student thanked [her] for [her] ‘gentle heart and ruthless pen.’”[7] Her dedication demonstrates the importance Ruiz places on her students and her desire for them to be successful.

Aside from helping her students in UCI, Vicki Ruiz is involved with her community.  As director of UCI’s Humanities Out There (HOT) outreach program, “Ruiz integrates oral history and conventional archival sources to personalize her work, connect past and contemporary issues and, above all, make history accessible.”[8] The HOT outreach program is available to Santa Ana’s K-12 schools, where Ruiz teaches younger generations the importance and techniques of oral history.  Through this program, students are able to make connections with their own families.  Ruiz states, “I want to see HOT get out of the classroom and make connections with the community.  I believe our obligations as members of the university do not end at the campus parking lot.  As citizens, we have a responsibility to a larger community.” [9]

Vicki Ruiz is a perfect example for future Chicanas of the multiple possibilities that higher education can open on an individual’s life.  Ruiz’s work is greatly appreciated since it incorporates women’s narratives and their experiences into history.  Through her extensive research, Vicki Ruiz is one of the leading women who has written and incorporated ‘herstory’ into history books, giving justice to women who have participated in past events and have been overlooked.  As Morris states, “with Ruiz’s help, the (women’s) oversight is being corrected.”[10] Vicki Ruiz has various publications and has recently completed Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, demonstrating how Latinas make history in various areas of society.

Major Themes/Issues

Vicki Ruiz’s works and incorporation of women’s histories have made her one of the leading researchers in such field.  Based on her extensive line of works, Ruiz’s field of interests consists of 20th century Chicana history with an emphasis on women labor. Such interests can clearly be seen through two of her most recognized works which are Cannery Workers, Cannery Lives and From Out of the Shadows in which Ruiz presents women’s living and working conditions. Through these two books, one is able to understand that women do indeed have a narrative of challenging the limitations that society has imposed on them. In addition, Ruiz’s books demonstrate that women have always been fighting for equality and their rights, which challenges the societal idea that women are submissive.

Vicki Ruiz has also been involved in various coediting works that involve Latina women. Such works involve Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States(2003), Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community (2005), and American Dreaming, Global Realities: Re-Thinking U.S. Immigration History (2006). In one of her most recent collaborations, Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia(2006), Ruiz and other editors bring together various narratives of women in the United States, creating a three-volume collection. All the encyclopedia entries mention women’s involvements in various aspects of society from migration patterns to challenging their limitations within the American society. This encyclopedia challenges the notion that women’s history and migration to the United States is a recent issue and that instead, “their legacy stretches back hundreds of years to the founding of St. Augustine in 1565.”[11]

In Las Obreras: Chicana Politics of Work and Family (2000), Vicki Ruiz pieces together issues that Chicanas have and continue to experience in society and within their homes. The book is divided into four sections in which each section demonstrates a stage a woman might encounter in society or in the home. In this collection, various Chicana writers discuss issues such as sterilization, women as garment workers, and balancing work and home. Through these works, readers are able to understand how well-rounded women are and the various issues that they are constantly struggling with. Ruiz finalizes the collections by demonstrating how women have challenged such experiences.

Ruiz’s ultimate purpose is to incorporate and voice women’s storylines into history books.  In her works, Ruiz presents the various roles that women have taken, which have often been disregarded.  Voicing the unheard, Ruiz gives women a history in which they can empower themselves with the hopes of moving forward and challenging any limitations they might experience in their lives. Through these narratives, Ruiz helps readers understand that women have and will continue to have a history of fighting for their rights and challenging limited roles. In presenting these narratives, Ruiz hopes to give women their own space to describe their triumphs and their struggles within the home and in the greater society.

Analysis/Criticism

In her UCI website page, Vicki Ruiz gives a discussion on her book, From Out of the Shadows, in which she states her purpose for writing this book.  Ruiz stated that she wanted readers to understand what it was like to be a woman during the 1930s, “to recognize the opportunities available to Mexican women in the U.S. and what was beyond their grasp.”[12]By just looking at the title, one is able to understand where women’s position in historical narratives has been, in the shadows.

In this book, Ruiz takes women out of the shadow that has kept them invisible to society and presents them as living figures with true experiences and struggles.  This book is greatly appreciated because she presents the narratives of women in the 1930s and makes the reader sympathize with women’s lives during this time.  On the other hand, From Out of the Shadows reads as a textbook since it is full of dates and the entries are very choppy. In many occasions, one is unable to understand a historical event since Ruiz quickly moves to another topic; she leaves the reader wanting for more information. Comparing her to other Chicano writers, she reads as Rodolfo Acuña’s works Occupied America andAnything but Mexican. Overall, one feels empowered by such narratives and appreciates the experiences that Ruiz presents. In addition, readers are able to make connections with their own lives and are able to realize that these issues continue to be present today.

Vicki Ruiz’s dissertation, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives, reads more like a monograph in which she sticks with the issue through the whole book. The title for this book is self-explanatory and Ruiz completes what she sets out to do. In Cannery Women, Cannery Lives, Vicki Ruiz focuses on women’s labor movements during the 1930s through 1950s. Ruiz demonstrates the importance of women in challenging their living and working conditions and how they created such movements. Vicki Ruiz does a wonderful job in presenting women not only as workers, but as movement organizers, experiences that are often forgotten in history. Her work serves as a guide to continue in the struggle, searching better working and living opportunities for the most discriminated.

Aside from presenting narratives empowering women, there are some issues with From Out of the Shadows.  Although she attempts to empower women, it seems that this text presents some of the same narratives that are found in her other book, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives.  When comparing these two books, it seems as if Ruiz did not incorporate enough research to her latest book in order to distinguish it from the other.  Although it is important to mention women in labor movements, her chapter on “With Pickets, Baskets, and Ballots” reads like a chapter that can be found in Cannery Women, Cannery Lives. There is no new information about working women in the 1930s.

From reading her dissertation, it seems as if she rephrased the book over in From Out of the Shadows. Although her interests involve Chicanas and labor, Vicki Ruiz’s book mentions a lot of issues that she had already covered in her dissertation. It would have been better if she would have gone beyond the women’s labor movement during the 1930s and 1950s while at the same time making connections on how the previous movements helped others.

Vicki Ruiz is a historian of the past, present, and the future since she presents the past to make sense of the present and foretell the future. In demonstrating the past, Ruiz challenges the idea that women do not have an extensive history and gives voice to those narratives through her works. In using the present, Ruiz makes sense of what women continue to experience, therefore making connections with the past. Through her narratives, future generations of women can guide themselves in their search for equality and the demanding of their rights by looking back at their history. In addition, presenting past and present narratives, future generations can no longer be told that women do not have a history.

Although Vicki Ruiz plays an important role of recording Chicana history, she passively presents such narratives. Compared to other Chicana writers, Ruiz does not truly challenge issues that limit women from becoming successful members of society. Although Natalia Molina’s anthology, Fit to Be Citizens?, and Ruiz’s monographs do display on going historical events that limit women, their approach in presenting these narratives are different. Molina challenges such notions through theoretical frameworks rather than merely presenting ‘facts.’

Alicia Gaspar de Alba is another example of how Ruiz is different from other female writers. In her most recent collaboration with Alma Lopez, Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s Irreverent Apparition, Gaspar de Alba not only presents what happened in the 2000s with Alma Lopez’s controversial image, Our Lady, she also challenges the conditions that were being placed on the artist and her work. Through theory and aggressively challenging women’s limitations, Gaspar de Alba gives readers more understanding on her position on these issues and how through her works she is acting against such limitations. Most of the information that Alicia Gaspar de Alba provides is not available in Vicki Ruiz’s books, which questions her position in her works.

In comparing Ruiz with other Chicana writers, it can be observed that her stance as a historian is very limited and narrow. It is appreciated that she is one of the first Chicanas that has brought women’s narratives to light. On the other hand, it would be appreciated if she would write such accounts with more aggression and if she stated her stance.  In addition, based on her two monographs, one cannot truly get a sense in her position since most of her works are co-edited. In her co-edited works, her voice as a Chicana historian is lost since her role as a researcher is not visible, rather she is acknowledge as a person who helped piece all the works together.

– by Marisela

Bibliography

  • American Dreaming, Global Realities: Re-Thinking U.S. Immigration History.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006, co-edited with Donna R. Gabaccia.
  • Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987) National Women’s Political Caucus Distinguished Achievement Award (in fifth printing).
  • Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States (New York: Longman, 2003, brief edition, 2004, second edition, 2005, AP edition, 2005) co-authored with Jacqueline Jones, Peter Wood, Elaine T. May and Thomas Borstelmann
  •  From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) American Library Association, Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 1998
  • Las Obreras: Chicana Politics of Work and Family (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Publications, 2000)
  •  Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) co-edited with Virginia Sánchez Korrol
  • Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia,3 vols. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), co-edited with Virginia Sánchez Korrol (Project grants include $140,000 from the Ford Foundation and $299,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Mapping Memories and Migrations: Locating Boricua and Chicana Histories(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, in press), co-edited with John R. Chávez.
  •  “Migrations and Destinations: Reflections on the Histories of U.S. Immigrant Women,” Journal of American Ethnic History (forthcoming, Fall 2006), co-authored with Donna R. Gabaccia
  • “Nuestra América: Latino History as United States History,” Journal of American History (forthcoming, December 2006)
  • The Practice of U.S. Women’s History: Narratives, Intersections, and Dialogues (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, in press), co-edited with Eileen Boris and Susan J. Kleinberg
  • Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History Third Edition (New York: Routledge, 1999), co-edited with Ellen DuBois (1st ed., 1990, 2nd ed., 1994) An abridged second edition published in Japan, 1997. American Education Association Critic’s Choice Award
  • Western Women: Their Land, Their Lives (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), co-edited with Lillian Schlissel and Janice Monk
  • Women on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Responses to Change (Winchester, MA: Allen and Unwin, 1987, reprinted by Westview Press, 1991), co-edited with Susan Tiano


[1]  “Vicki Ruiz,” 2006. University of California, Irvine. 20 April 2011. <http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/faculty_profile_ruiz.php>

[2] Karen Morris, “Vicki Ruiz: Historical Perspectives,” 2003. 20 April 2011. <http://today.uci.edu/iframe.php?p=/Features/profile_detail_iframe.asp?key=110>

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Vicki Ruiz,” 2006. University of California, Irvine. 20 April 2011. <http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/faculty_profile_ruiz.php>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Karen Morris, “Vicki Ruiz: Historical Perspectives,” 2003. 20 April 2011. <http://today.uci.edu/iframe.php?p=/Features/profile_detail_iframe.asp?key=110>

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Vicki Ruiz and Virginia Sanchez Korrol. Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, 2006. Indiana University Press.

[12] “Vicki Ruiz,” 2006. University of California, Irvine. 20 April 2011. <http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/faculty_profile_ruiz.php>

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