Today we are featuring an article written by Ronald L. Ruiz, the author of Jesusita.
Currently Mr Ruiz is on a virtual book tour sponsored by iRead Book Tours. The tour runs from November 2nd through November 20th. You can check out the full schedule here. We hope you will stop by to learn more about this book and the author.
The Influence of The Past
There were two things from my childhood that influenced me most in writing Jesusita: watching and being aware of the extreme hardships that my mother and my grandmother suffered in their lives.
Around 1920, my grandmother, grandfather and their children waded across the Rio Grande in the dead of the night and entered the U.S. bringing whatever they could carry with them. Three years later, my grandfather died. My grandmother, who spoke no English, was left with five children. To survive, she and her children became migrant farmworkers and followed the crops down California´s Central Valley, along the central coast, and down into El Centro area. They did this for years. As a boy, I heard again and again about the horrific living and working conditions they lived under.
When I was about eight years old, my grandmother was no longer working in the fields, but was caring for foster children. Some of those kids were my friends, one was my best friend. The punishments she inflicted on them for any number of transgressions were cruel and brutal. By then, she had become a harsh, cruel and brutal person.
No Paulina actually drowned in a Fresno river. That was fictional. And I did not provide blow by blow descriptions of the punishments I had seen in my grandmother´s home in my novel. I did draw from what I saw there to create the set of facts that I wanted.
Long before my grandmother´s death, my mother was alienated from my grandmother and wanted to have as little to do with her as possible. My grandmother ended her life in San Francisco, living in a bleak alley/street, working in a Chinese sweater factory well into her sixties.
My mother´s life was by no means easy either. My grandmother threw my mother out of her house when she became pregnant with me. My mother went to live with my father´s family and soon thereafter they were married. Three years later he left her and she became the sole financial and emotional support for herself and her three children.
She took a job in a mattress factory, and during the second World War did the work of a man there, toting mattresses around on her back. I saw her coming home at night exhausted and yet taking care of all our needs. How she managed to keep us together has always been an incredible wonder for me. Yet she too became harsh, tough and brutal. In the end she too stood alienated from three of her four children (my brother was from a second marriage) who wanted little to do with her at the time of her death.
I spoke at her funeral. I spent much time thinking about what I would say. In a way, what I said at her funeral I was repeating in Jesusita. Which was to ask: At some point can extreme hardship in a person´s life be held responsible for some of the ills of the person who has endured those hardships?
Official Book Description
Jesusita is the story of immigrants—legal and illegal—trying to survive in California in the years after World War II. Jesusita, alone and impoverished, struggles to keep her four young children together. Though she finds support from Padre Montes at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, her faith won’t solve her problems, especially those with her daughter, Paulina. Far from home, Filipino laborers are denied by law any contact with white women. Angie, the young daughter of an illiterate and unmarried mother, knows only one way to make money. And Felix, abandoned by his mother and separated from his only brother, is placed in a foster home on an isolated ranch. The interrelated lives of these people provide a complex, sometimes violent, and often tragic image of American poverty within the nation’s postwar boom.
Praise for the work of Ronald L. Ruiz
“The sparse, simple prose lets the story tell itself… The supporting characters are briefly but fully drawn… Few readers will be able to forget the chilling experiences of a forlorn hero who’s destined to take his place next to Bigger Thomas (of Richard Wright’s Native Son) in the honor roll of seminal characters in American literature.”
–Publishers Weekly (featured review) on Happy Birthday Jesús
After reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at the age of 17, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But I knew nothing about the craft. My first novel, Happy Birthday Jesús, was published 36 years later. Surprisingly, it received good reviews
For many years, I was a criminal defense attorney and at the end of my career a prosecutor, but I always managed to find time to write. What I saw and experienced during those years often serves as a basis for my writing. For me, learning how to write has been a long, continuous and, at times, torturous process.
Now retired, I try to write every day and I feel fortunate that I have found something in writing that sustains me. I’m glad I persevered during all those years of rejection. More than anything, writing about what I see and experience in life has given me a sense of worth.