Rudy Ruiz

Bridging Cultures Through Communication: Rudy Ruiz’s Success in Driving Positive Change

Award-winning author, advocate, and social entrepreneur, Rudy Ruiz has always been interested in building bridges of understanding between communities. Drawing inspiration from his family history and childhood spent living along the border, Ruiz is a firm believer in the potential for collaboration between people from both sides of the border and from diverse cultures across the nation and globe. Accustomed from birth to a life of cultural and geographic dichotomies, he’s been able to work towards that vision in both the business and literary worlds.

The son and grandson of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz was born in Brownsville, Texas, but spent several years living across the border in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. His daily childhood commute across the border to attend a small Catholic school in Brownsville, and his evenings spent with family in Matamoros, immersed Ruiz within a bicultural and bi-national world. “Growing up on the border, I came to believe that this community that was intersected – or bisected – by the river, could grow together, live together, and get things done together,” he said. 

While he did not speak English until he entered school at the age of five, once there, Ruiz dreamt of becoming a writer, an entrepreneur, and a contributor to the well-being of immigrants and minorities. In pursuit of his dreams, Ruiz has formed a successful social advocacy marketing firm, Interlex, and has also written – or contributed to – six books, highlighting issues of social justice, immigration, acculturation, and borders in his award-winning work. 

Fresh out of graduate school, Ruiz joined his wife Heather in establishing Interlex. “I’m a writer and public policy strategist, my wife’s a graphic designer and visual artist, so this unique advertising and marketing agency started out with the idea of helping our clients transform public policy into social action through culturally and emotionally compelling communications,” he said. Through Interlex, the San Antonio-based couple works on pressing social issues where multicultural communities are often disproportionately affected. These include public health, the digital divide, financial literacy, access to capital, educational attainment gaps, and environmental impact. Statistics and research data reveal tremendous disparities between these communities and the rest of the United States. According to Ruiz, multicultural communities are often at great systemic disadvantages due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to the legacy of racial discrimination and cyclical poverty.

To help bridge the gap between communities, Interlex helps drive positive social impact through culturally relevant advocacy marketing for government agencies, non-profit organizations, and socially conscientious corporations. “We have created culturally relevant communications campaigns over the last 28 years that have helped engage, educate and empower diverse communities.  We have some fantastic case studies on the positive impact that some of those campaigns have been able to make on issues including access to the internet and emergency services, better healthcare, improved nutrition, and increased immunization rates,” said Ruiz. 

One of his primary motivations for his social advocacy work is to provide a voice to communities that often go unheard. After working with various government agencies and non-profit organizations, Ruiz realized that many of the individuals in charge of developing and implementing policy lack the cultural awareness required for effective decision-making. Ruiz also found that policymakers targeting multicultural and border communities are often unaware of the unique and nuanced challenges faced by such communities. “People’s understanding of some of these issues is very warped by the fact that they have just not spent enough time in multicultural communities throughout the nation or on the U.S.-Mexico border. With regards to the border specifically, they have not known enough people from the region, and have not had enough positive experiences to understand that there’s a lot of potential there for collaboration, for growth, for positive change, for finding better ways to treat people and to preserve their human rights and their dignity,” he said. Through Interlex, Ruiz aims to share authentic multicultural perspectives with his clients, which can enable them to make choices that serve their goals, “and are also rooted in empathy and understanding.” 

While Interlex strives to make a positive impact on the lives of diverse communities through communications, Ruiz has also advocated for social change through his literary endeavors. The author of several award-winning books (including Seven for the Revolution, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez, and Valley of Shadows), Ruiz’s short fiction has also appeared in literary journals including BorderSenses, The Ninth Letter, New Texas, Gulf Coast, and the Notre Dame Review. His short story, ‘That Boy Could Run’, won the 2017 Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction. And his short story, ‘Vexing Gifts’, gained popularity due to its use of magical realism and satire to criticize President Trump’s border and immigration policies. 

Ruiz has often engaged with issues of cross-border immigration in his writing. “Even though I write fiction, I consider it what’s called socially engaged fiction. Some people might even call it protest literature,” he says. “I want to help readers see new or different perspectives on some of these issues, some of these communities, whether it’s Latino immigrants, the border, the refugee crisis, some of those types of things, and humanize some of those issues for them, because sometimes in the news, it’s very politicized and it’s very negative.” According to Ruiz, many of these issues continue to stay with us and we cannot seem to overcome them, which makes it ever-more important to highlight them. 

His latest novel, Valley of Shadows, which recently won the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction, invites readers to travel to the fictional town of Olvido, which has been stranded on the US side of the border after the Rio Grande shifts course. The story follows ex-lawman Solitario Cisneros as he struggles to solve a series of gruesome crimes, while under the power of a mysterious multigenerational curse. Accompanied by a gifted Apache seer, Onawa, Cisneros sets off on a journey that will change his destiny forever.

A neo-Western horror story, Valley of Shadows allows readers to reflect on the social injustices that have long plagued the border. Immersing readers in vivid historical fiction, Ruiz helps audiences realize that – while times may have changed – prejudice, discrimination and racially and culturally driven hate crimes and violence endure along the border, calling out for overdue policy changes. In doing so, Ruiz also provides a contrasting perspective to the archetype of a Western sheriff. Instead of the white Texan lawman being glorified, the novel introduces a Mexican-American hero and a Native American heroine. “The future has to look like us, think like us, feel like us in order to include us,” Ruiz states. “Today, understanding this dynamic is a source of fear for those who oppose change, but it should actually be a source of hope because we can change and grow together, and in the process heal and strengthen our nation.”

As author Khaled Hosseini puts it, “Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.” Ruiz’s writing embodies this quote perfectly as his work builds bridges between cultures, nations, and people. On that note, Ruiz concludes, “I’m not a construction worker or an architect or an engineer, so the way I build bridges is through empathy, ideas and writing.” 

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