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Guide to the Manuel Ruiz Papers, 1931-1986 M0295
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The Manuel Ruiz, Jr. papers support research on such topics as organization of Hispanic communities, discrimination and segregation in housing, employment and schooling, the administration of justice, police-community relations, and juvenile delinquency--each topic important to an understanding of the Mexican American experience in Southern California during and following the Second World War. The collection spans the years 1931 to 1984, with the bulk of the papers dating from 1940 to 1948 and 1963 to 1978. There are almost no records from the decades of the 1930s and 1950s. The majority of the ten linear foot collection consists of organizational records and subject files. There are minutes, agendas, reports, articles, correspondence, notes, statements, newspaper clippings, financial records, by-laws and photographs. The collection is divided into six series: Personal and Biographical Information, Writings of Manuel Ruiz, Jr., Political Files, Organizational Records, Subject Files, and Photographs.
Manuel Ruiz, Jr. was born in Los Angeles on July 25, 1905. He and his parents, who had come to Southern California from Mazatlan, Mexico, resided in the Belvedere Gardens section of East Los Angeles. Ruiz graduated from Manual Arts High School in 1923 where he distinguished himself as captain of the track and debate teams, concert master of the school orchestra, and class valedictorian. At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, he continued his participation in track and debate; he also joined Sigma Phi Epsilon, a social fraternity, and Gamma Eta Gamma, a legal fraternity. He received the A.B. in law in 1927 and the L.L.B. (graduate law degree) in 1930. Ruiz was admitted to the practice of law in California that same year. In an interview conducted in 1972 (Box 1, Folder 9), Ruiz recalled that racial prejudice kept him from joining an established Los Angeles firm, "Fortunately for me I was not acceptable in a regular law firm although I had good grades --I was almost a straight A student --I had to start a law practice on my own." He rented a two-room, forty dollar a month office, and did his own secretarial work. Ruiz pursued a specialty in international private law and was admitted to the Bar in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1932. Later his brother, Alexander, became a member of the firm. Ruiz sought to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation to do undercover war work in Latin America, but instead he spent the World War II years in Los Angeles as a community organizer and activist. The firm belief that friendship and solidarity among the American republics was integral to the Allied Forces' war efforts led Ruiz to become a founding member and executive secretary of Cultura Panamericana, Inc. in 1940. The goals of the 1,000 member group included the promotion of interest in inter-American culture and cultural exchange, support for bicultural conferences and programs, and the establishment of a Pan-American cultural center and library in Los Angeles. The war years witnessed a rising tide of California racism and xenophobia. Young Hispanics in their flashy zoot suits offered convenient targets for racially-motivated violence by members of the military and blatant prejudice by the public at large. In his capacity as chairman of the Citizens Committee for Latin American Youth (a group appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to improve the living and working conditions of young Hispanics), Ruiz was involved in the defense of members of the 38th Street Club, twenty-two of whom were convicted of criminal conspiracy in the death of Jose Diaz in a 1942 incident which came to be known as the Sleepy Lagoon Case. The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, which included such prominent community leaders as Luisa Moreno, Josefina Fierro de Bright, Bert Corona and Carey McWilliams, succeeded in obtaining a reversal of the verdict by the District Court of Appeals in October, 1944, after the defendants had spent two years in prison. Ruiz published his succinct analysis of the juvenile delinquency problem and suggested detailed steps to ameliorate it in "Latin-American Juvenile Delinquency in Los Angeles: Bomb or Bubble!" (Crime Prevention Digest, vol. 1, no. 13, Dec., 1942). With Eduardo Quevedo and others, Ruiz founded the Coordinating Council for Latin American Youth (CCLAY), a loose coalition of youth groups which worked informally in clubs and sports teams to help teenagers improve their economic and educational situations and cooperated with law enforcement and social agencies to prevent juvenile delinquency. Ruiz was active as secretary of, and attorney for, CCLAY from 1941 to 1946. He was also appointed by Governor Earl Warren to the California Committee on Youth in Wartime (later the California Youth Committee) in 1943 and served until 1947. Despite the efforts of CCLAY and similar groups, zoot suiters and servicemen battled in the East Los Angeles barrio in early June, 1943. The press gave sensational front-page coverage to the so-called Pachuco or Zoot Suit Riots and blamed Mexican American youths for the fighting. Authorities, including Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Brown, acted slowly to end the violence. Mexican Americans, Blacks and Filipinos were beaten, and more than 600 were arrested without cause before pressure by the Mexican government and U.S. federal authorities brought an end to the inactivity of mayor Brown and the military police. In 1963 Ruiz joined the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) which had been formed five years earlier in Phoenix, after the defeat of Democratic candidate Henry P. Lopez in the California secretary of state contest. The founders realized that Mexican Americans could not depend on either major party to champion their interests. The association assumed a more concrete form at a conference in Fresno, California in April, 1960, and Congressman Eduardo Roybal of Los Angeles became its first president. Ruiz became involved at the time of MAPA's incorporation on May 2, 1963, and he helped to draft the by-laws. MAPA was bipartisan and decentralized, with chapters organized within state assembly districts for the purpose of electing Mexican American and sympathetic candidates, registering voters, and sponsoring political education seminars and publications. The membership was predominantly young, urban and middle class. MAPA organized VIVA Kennedy clubs to support John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential race, supported an unsuccessful drive to incorporate East Los Angeles as a separate city in 1961, and played a major role in the election of John Moreno and Phillip Soto to the state assembly in 1962. Ruiz assumed responsibility as a member of the MAPA Organizational Committee and the Executive Board; he was also elected legal counsel for the California and Arizona state MAPA organizations. In the mid-1960s he served as publisher and principal financial supporter of the short-lived newspaper The Voice of the Spanish-Speaking People. Although Eduardo Quevedo, Bert Corona and most other members of the MAPA hierarchy were Democrats, Ruiz maintained his membership in the Republican Party. In 1964 he accepted the position of National Chairman, Hispanic Division, of the Republican National Committee during Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful bid for the presidency. From 1965 to 1968 Ruiz served as secretary to the board of directors and as legal counsel to War on Poverty, Inc. This non-profit corporation was founded to stimulate grass-roots community action to address urban and rural poverty and to initiate programs to raise the living standards of low-income families. War on Poverty, Inc. was successful in attracting sizeable grants from the United States Department of Labor to fund the Educational Resources Information Service (1966-1968) and the Manpower Opportunities Project (1966-1968). The former, funded by a grant of $48,000, was designed to help low-income youth in Los Angeles County obtain jobs, loans, and scholarship funds which would allow them to attend college. The Manpower Opportunities Project (MOP), based in Fresno and serving the Stockton, San Jose, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Fresno areas, was funded by a Department of Labor grant of $400,000. MOP's efforts were aimed toward a demonstration project to provide low-income Hispanics with assistance in job placement and training. Both programs emphasized the need for counseling, higher education, on-the-job training, and placement services in order to reduce the unemployment rate. Neither project was successful in attracting continued financial support after federal funding ceased. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ruiz served as a member of the board of directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. In 1972 he authored (and privately printed) Mexican American Legal Heritage in the Southwest; a second edition appeared in 1974. Ruiz's lifelong interest in education and law was recognized by President Richard M. Nixon who appointed him to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) in 1970. The Commission, an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding agency created by Congress in 1957, studies legal developments which infringe on citizens' constitutional rights. Although it lacks enforcement powers, it reports its findings directly to Congress and the President. Ruiz was a commissioner-designate when the USCCR released its report "Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest" in April, 1970. The 135-page document censured police misconduct, underrepresentation of Hispanics on juries and in law enforcement agencies, abuse of bail regulations, and inadequate legal representation of defendants in the five Southwestern states. It proposed eighteen steps for solving these problems. J. Edgar Hoover, chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, vigorously defended the FBI against the Commission's critique. Ruiz was instrumental in bringing about the USCCR's investigation into the death of Ruben Salazar, a prominent Los Angeles Times reporter who was killed by police on August 29, 1970 in the aftermath of the Chicano Moratorium Day riots in East Los Angeles. Ruiz's particular interests as a commissioner included police brutality, prison conditions, school desegregation, and bilingual education. He served on the commission for ten years. Manuel Ruiz is married to the former Claudia Scipper; they have one daughter. He maintains a law office on South Spring Street in Los Angeles as he has for more than forty years.
16.25 Linear Feet
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.