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Voces Oral History Center Interview with Jesus Ruiz

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3:46 - Family and Career Background

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Segment Synopsis: The experience of his mother and father’s arrival in the United States as undocumented immigrants, eventually gaining permanent residency, has taught Ruiz to place great value on education. Growing up Ruiz attended Waukegan High School an underprivileged school in the blue-collar city of Waukegan, Illinois, with a large Latino and African American population.

Throughout his educational career Ruiz would not only find interest but would excel in the sciences. He would go on to, during his sophomore year of high school, apply to a program called Project SEED through the American Chemical Society and would be selected to conduct biomedical research. Despite his research and a published paper under his belt all before graduating high school, it would not prepare him for his journey in pursing higher education at Loyola University in Chicago. “When I got to Loyola, there was a stark reality of being unprepared for college. And that’s the story that I think repeats itself with many of our Latino students who are coming from underserved communities,” Ruiz said.

He mentions due to the lack of preparation he received for college, almost led him to drop out his first semester. Ruiz would then switch majors due to a conversation with a professor who told him that he was not fit for the program. Ruiz would then do so, eventually leading him to take a break from school to work to support his family. Ruiz would not make it to medical school.

Keywords: College--Latinx Students; Inequalities--Education; Latin American; Loyola University; Waukegan, Illinois

Subjects: College students—Education; Discrimination in higher education; Diversity in higher education; Education--Integration; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Social Interaction--United States; Social movements

9:52 - Path to Becoming an Educator

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Segment Synopsis: Years passed and Ruiz would land a job opportunity at the Lake County Health Department in Waukegan, Illinois doing grass-roots social research. Ruiz mentions this introduction to community work, within the very own community he grew up in, sparked a passion within him. He would go on to work with Latino and African American teens in relation to teen pregnancy prevention; before getting the opportunity to obtain his master’s degree, free of charge, at Northeastern Illinois University through the ENLACE Program. During this time, he would still see education as a way out of poverty.

He would then for eight years work on changing the pathway used for Latino students to get to medical school. With much success Ruiz would have a hand in getting the highest number of Latino and African American students into medical school at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago. Currently, Ruiz works as the first Latino Dean at College of Lake County Lakeshore Campus, in Waukegan Illinois. At the same time Ruiz is pursuing his PhD at Illinois State University in Educational Administration Foundations.

Keywords: Health Services; Healthcare System; Inequalities—Education; Latin American; Latinx Community; Medical Field

Subjects: African Americans; College students—Education; Colleges; Education, Bilingual; Education--Integration; Higher education; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States)

13:21 - Family Member Lost to COVID-19

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Segment Synopsis: Ruiz would lose his uncle, a 59-year-old undocumented immigrant, from COVID-19. His uncle acted as a mentor for Ruiz, who would seek him for support and advice. Before, his death Ruiz’s uncle conducted heating, ventilation, and air conditioning maintenance for one of the Waukegan school districts. However, due to Ruiz’s uncle’s underlying diabetic condition putting him at a high risk, he would eventually find himself being sick for a couple weeks. Ruiz points out that the delay on health visits is very common among Latino men who dismiss illnesses for a variety of reasons. However, after having a close falling incident is when the family finally decided it was time to take him to a hospital in Waukegan.

Due to the precautions and visitor limitations that have been emplaced at hospitals due to the pandemic, Ruiz’s family was unable to accompany his uncle. Ruiz’s family would not see their uncle alive again, as he would be put on a ventilator and eventually would succumb to organ failure due to the virus. “My cousin was hoping that he would come in and get him after an hour. But after two hours, there was no phone call,” Ruiz said.

A couple days after his passing, Ruiz’s family would begin to arrange for a funeral. However, due to COVID regulations in the state of Illinois, they would have an open casket funeral in the alley behind the funeral home. However, in order to honor their uncle, Ruiz’s family would wait over a month to get permission from the Mexican government to repatriate the body. A wake would be held in the house his uncle had been building there and hoped to retire in, followed by a mass and procession to the cemetery, attended by a large number of people in Ruiz’s uncle’s hometown.

Keywords: COVID-19 (Disease)—Death; Facility—Hospital; Mexico; Pandemic; Undocumented

Subjects: Coronavirus infections--Diagnosis; Coronavirus Infections--therapy; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Treatment; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States)

26:44 - Role as College Administrator Before and After Covid

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Segment Synopsis: Ruiz would be the first appointed Latino Dean at the Lakeshore Campus at College of Lake County in Waukegan, Illinois. He would become an advocator for the Waukegan Lakeshore Campus, which had been disinvested and forgotten compared to the college’s other two campuses, Grayslake and Vernon Hills, that are housed in predominantly white communities in the suburbs.

As the first Latino Dean, and as someone who is from the community of Waukegan, at a campus with a large African American and Latino population, Jesus began to make progress in raising the profile of the campus. “…My dream is to have a campus that serves those communities with the same expectations and the same kind of facilities that we have at Grayslake. Where people walk in and feel proud that that’s their college,” Ruiz said.

However, when COVID hit Ruiz would only be a couple months into his position. He mentions there was a lot of criticism towards administration for being one of the last educational entities in the county to close their doors. Ruiz mentions that the hesitation to close was rooted in the issue of equity. The hold on closing the campus as well brought up the technological and socioeconomic barriers students at the Lakeshore Campus would experience.

Keywords: College--Latinx Students; Coronavirus; Education--Online-Learning; Inequalities—Education; Latin American; Pandemic--University--Student—Communication

Subjects: African Americans; COVID-19 (Disease); Diversity in higher education; Illinois--Waukegan; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); School Integration; Segregation in education

42:05 - Social Movements During Covid

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Segment Synopsis: The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought in urgency to the Lakeshore Campus around changing the discriminatory environment students, staff, and faculty have experienced. This change has brought in the space for individuals to share their stories of discrimination experienced at the college, their lack of action regarding white supremacist speech, and demands for change.

He as well discusses the role colorism plays in Latino hierarchies as well as in his own life and the challenges in the attitudes towards African Americans on the part of the Latino community. Ruiz has as well noticed an unnecessary division that has emerged in Waukegan in the struggle for resources to confront the COVID-19 crisis.

Keywords: Black Community; College--Latinx Students; COVID-19 (Disease); Inequalities—Education; Latin American; Latinx Community

Subjects: African Americans; Black lives matter movement--United States; College students—Education; Colored people (United States); COVID-19 (Disease); Education--Integration; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Minorities in higher education

52:46 - Life in a COVID-19 Hotspot

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Segment Synopsis: Jesus explains how Waukegan, a northern suburb of Chicago, with a large number of blue-collar essential workers in service industries as well as manufacturing, became a hotspot for Covid-19 in Illinois. A center for factories producing PPE and medical devices for companies such as Abbott, Medline, and Baxter, the city of Waukegan nevertheless has suffered a lack of PPE for the people living and working there. He references the “blame game” between temporary labor agencies and the companies that use them as a factor in lack of responsibility taken for the well-being of front-line workers.

He explains how undocumented and mixed-status families in the area—fearing interactions with government authorities and lacking economic support available to the larger population—have been particularly vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19. He also discusses how Waukegan’s dependence for news on the Chicago media market led to misunderstanding about the potential impact of Covid-19 on Waukegan—it was thought by many to be a “Chicago problem,” an “African American problem.”

Keywords: College--Latinx Students; Coronavirus; Economic Impact; Inequalities—Education; Latin American; News Coverage--COVID-19 (Disease); Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); Undocumented

Subjects: African Americans; COVID-19 (Disease); Education--Integration; Illinois--Waukegan; Labor organizations; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Low Socioeconomic Status

64:08 - Ruiz's Student Experience

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Segment Synopsis: Ruiz is part of the first ever Latino cohort of doctoral students at Illinois State University. However, the pandemic would hit while Ruiz would be preparing for his comprehensive exam. Ruiz mentions it was very difficult to concentrate due to the events brought on by COVID, such as his uncle’s passing. “It’s not easy to concentrate and shut down the world so that you can concentrate on writing. It’s just an incredible task,” Ruiz said.

Keywords: College--Latinx Students; COVID-19 (Disease); Education--Online-Learning; Inequalities—Education; Pandemic--University--Student--Communication; Pandemic--University--Student—Communication

Subjects: College students—Education; COVID-19 (Disease); Education--Integration; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Minorities in higher education