“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”
American author, advocate, and social entrepreneur, Rudy Ruiz, has spent several decades trying to engage readers with fresh perspectives on some of the most pressing issues affecting marginalized communities in the United States. Born in Brownsville, Texas, Ruiz is the son and grandson of Mexican immigrants as well as the descendant of Tejanos, Spanish-speaking settlers who lived in Texas before the state’s independence and annexation by the U.S. As such, he spent much of his childhood commuting across the border to Mexico. “My parents were very close to family in Mexico, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, which is across the border from Brownsville. The Rio Grande Valley, on both sides of the river, is where many of my ancestors have been since the mid-1700’s,” he said. “The experience of growing up on the border inspired me in many ways. I could see the cultural differences between the two countries, but I could also see the potential for good things to come from collaboration between people from both sides of the border.”
Raised amongst ranches and fiery tales of the Mexican Revolution, Ruiz has always possessed a knack for storytelling. During his childhood years, his father and maternal grandmother regarded their story-telling ritual as sacred and put on a regular show for Ruiz. Stories about border living, the Mexican Revolution, and other fascinating events often left him wide-eyed. However, it wasn’t until he attended Harvard that Ruiz discovered his love for a genre adored in Latin American culture – magical realism. Fascinated by authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, and their mastery of weaving fiction with magical elements, Ruiz began to devote more of his time to writing.
While he studied literature and creative writing in college, Ruiz graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor’s in Government and a Master’s in Public Policy. “While I was raised to be a storyteller, I was also encouraged to be practical. So, it’s no surprise that – growing up on the border – I naturally found a way to combine two very different pursuits in the same general direction, like how the Rio Grande River divides two nations yet flows to one sea.”
Following graduation, Ruiz partnered up with his wife Heather to start an advocacy marketing agency, Interlex. The agency provided both individuals with a venue to pursue meaningful work while staying true to their artistic leanings. “I’m a writer, my wife’s a graphic designer, and so this unique advertising marketing agency started with the idea of helping our clients transform public policy into social action,” said Ruiz. Through their agency, the San-Antonio-based couple works on pressing social issues where multicultural communities are often disproportionately impacted, such as public health, the digital divide, financial literacy, access to capital, educational attainment gaps, and environmental impact.
As the couple diligently built their brainchild into a nationally renowned advocacy marketing agency generating very real results for blue-chip clients including American Express, AARP, and the American Heart Association, writing fiction provided Rudy Ruiz with another – more personal and intimate – venue for inspiring positive change. “As a writer, you want to reach as many people as you can with your stories. Growing up on the border, I was always intrigued by the idea of building bridges between cultures, between nations, and between people. I’m not a construction worker or an architect or an engineer, so I build bridges through empathy, ideas and writing,” he said.
Ruiz aims to do much more than entertain through storytelling. One of the motivations that drives him to write about the bilingual/bicultural experience as well as immigration and acculturation issues is to provide a voice to communities that often go unheard within the greater American social discourse. This has also translated to his work at Interlex where Ruiz often works with large government agencies to enhance their understanding of multicultural matters.
“When a decisionmaker is very far removed from the people and issues they’re dealing with, the tendency is often to take the most expedient path. And sometimes as a result of that, bad things happen. So what I found in my work life was an opportunity to bring to our agency’s clients, authentic perspectives from multicultural communities, including not just Latinos but also African Americans, Asian Americans and Indigenous people, to help them make choices that could both serve their goals, but also help engage, educate and empower diverse communities,” he said.
Through Interlex’s work with universities and non-profit organizations, Ruiz has co-authored several research studies on topics including public health and immigration.
As an independent author, Ruiz has written – or contributed to – six books. His short fiction and novels have delved into border life and explored themes such as cultural identity, acculturation, the complexity of the American dream and universal topics such as generational divides, climate change, spirituality, and life after death. His fiction debut, Seven for the Revolution, won four International Latino Book Awards, including First Place for Best Popular Fiction and The Mariposa Award for Best First Book. The book follows the lives of seven Latino characters, exploring their immigrant experience, and invites readers to reconsider their views of immigrants and immigration. His short story, ‘Vexing Gifts’, also became popular due to its use of magical realism and satire to criticize President Trump’s border and immigration policies. His novel, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez, is set on the border and received two Gold Medals at the International Latino Book Awards for Best Latino-Focused Book and Best Audio Book.
Ruiz’s most recent novel, Valley of Shadows, won the prestigious Texas Institute of Letters Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction. The novel is set along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1800s and follows the life of a solitary ex-lawman, Solitario Cisneros as he navigates a series of gruesome crimes in his hometown of Olvido. When the Rio Grande shifts course, the Mexican city of Olvido finds itself stranded on the U.S. side of the border, displacing and uprooting its residents. While Cisneros sets off on a perilous journey, battling the forces of evil, the novel also highlights the tensions surrounding a community that is now home to a mix of Anglo, Mexican, and Apache residents. According to the Texas Institute of Letters judges, “Rudy Ruiz’ Valley of Shadows is a masterful weaving of the best of American Literature: a realistic historical novel, a riveting, edge-of-your-seat Western thriller with a dose of horror and magic. Most of all, Rudy Ruiz’ simple, brilliant and penetrating writing transforms Solitario Cisneros’ struggle for meaning and redemption into an existential inquiry about the quest we must all undertake to save our world.”
“In the end, that’s what it’s all about,” Ruiz said, reflecting on the Texas Institute of Letters award, “We must all find our own way to make our world a better place. Every person has their own talents and the ability to make a positive difference in some way. From brightening a family member’s day or putting a smile on a stranger’s face to inspiring social change on confounding issues, we cannot stop trying, each in our way, to make things better. In fiction, I can shift the course of a river. In reality, I hope I can shift the course of people’s thoughts and actions.”