OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Vicki L. Ruiz

Portrait of Vicki L. Ruiz

An award-winning scholar at the University of California, Irvine, Vicki Ruiz is the author, editor, or coeditor of several books, including From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (1998); with Ellen Carol DuBois, Unequal Sisters: An Inclusive Reader in U.S. Women's History (4th edition, 2008); and, with Virginia Sanchez Korrol, Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (2006). A past president of the OAH, the American Historical Association, the American Studies Association, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, she is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of American Historians as well as a recipient of the 2014 National Humanities Medal for pioneering the history of twentieth-century Latinas.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Why does Latino history matter? Contrary to media depictions of Latinos as people who arrived day before yesterday, there exists a rich layering of nationalities and generations. Whether carving out a community in St. Augustine in 1565 to reflecting on colonialism and liberty during the 1890s to fighting for civil rights through the courts of the 1940s, Spanish-speaking peoples made history within and beyond national borders. Bringing out larger themes, debates, and sources, this presentation focuses on three historical moments pivotal to re-imagining an American narrative with Latinos as meaningful actors—1848 (the U.S.-Mexican War), 1898 (the Filipino-Cuban-Spanish-American War), and 1948 (the Latino G.I. Generation).
“ . . . women are capable of everything and anything,” declared Puerto Rican labor radical Luisa Capetillo, in Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer. Published in 1911, this manifesto articulated a radical vision that promoted republican motherhood alongside free love and proletarian revolution. Less bold, a teenage Guatemalan feminist, Rosa Rodríguez López (aka Luisa Moreno) stressed the importance of education across class: “Feminism will make her become Conscious. . ., and. . .by obtaining an adequate education, she will be prepared [for].. . a much more ambitious future.” At the turn of the twentieth-century, Luisa Capetillo emerged as a passionate leader in Puerto Rico’s labor movement and later extended her reach into the Caribbean and the United States. During the 1930s and 40s, Luisa Moreno, the first Latina to hold national office in a major CIO union, organized food processing workers, as well as the first U.S. Latino civil rights conference. Though they never met, their legacies as labor leaders and feminist intellectuals intersect in multiple ways, especially in terms of their unwavering commitment to a radical labor politics. Their feminist writings reveal women’s transnational circuits of knowledge that extended across generations.
Rural schools offered Mexican American children more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They could nurture expectations, aspirations, and even opportunities while simultaneously reminding them of their place as children of Mexican farm workers, miners, and rail hands. Drawing on an array of archival sources, newspapers, secondary literature, and oral narratives, this powerpoint presentation provides a historical overview of education in the lives of rural Mexican American youth from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. Although beginning with the controversy over public education itself in New Mexico during the 1870s, this talk focuses on the institutional nature of segregation “for the cause of Americanization” as well as two significant legal challenges by Latina/o parents on behalf of their children. Historian Francisco Balderrama contends that at the dawning of the Great Depression “more than 80 percent of the school districts in southern California enrolled Mexicans and Mexican Americans in segregated schools.” In 1945, Puerto Rico-born Felícitas Méndez and her Mexican born husband Gonzalo, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens, organized other parents in a class action lawsuit against several school districts in then rural Orange County. While Mexican American struggles for educational desegregation remain largely hidden from history, the case of Méndez v. Westminster (1946) would help pave the way for Brown v. Board of Education