As a child, Luis Ruiz moved around the East Coast with his family, picking fruits and vegetables as a migrant farm worker to help make ends meet. Today, the out 35-year-old works as an immigration lawyer and owns a practice with offices in Houston and Baytown.
Ruiz, who once relied on the kindness of his community for basic resources such as school supplies, is passionate about giving back to the community he finds himself a part of today. One such effort is his annual backpack drive, meant to set local school children up for success and help them reach their full potential.
“I was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and grew up undocumented. I came to the United States when I was two years old, and when I grew up, I worked as a farm worker,” the Houstonian explains. “Although I grew up in Baytown, there was a period where my family traveled all over the East Coast. As a farm worker, I would pick fruits and vegetables like oranges, apples, cucumbers, and blueberries.”
The observant Mexican American learned at an early age that while his skin color and background were something to be celebrated, they also made him an object of ridicule. “I would see and pick up on how people would treat the migrant communities—how non-immigrants would treat immigrants,” he reflects. “It was pretty awful and disgusting how others would treat me. I wanted a seat at the table, I wanted some power, I wanted to be able to have a way to give back. I wanted to be president, but I knew that wasn’t possible.”
Ruiz knew there were only a handful of ways to obtain that power. “In my opinion, there are a couple of careers that give you immediate respect in the eyes of others—lawyers and doctors. So that was the next step. I needed to be a lawyer so I could help the people in my community.”
The University of Houston Law Center graduate was licensed on November 7, 2014, and opened his practice the following day. “I practice immigration law, and we deal mostly with family-based petitions. Ninety-nine percent of our workload is working with crime victims and domestic-violence survivors.”
With a team of seven, there’s never a dull day at the Luis Ruiz Law Offices. “We have clients all over the world—North America, South America, Central America, Kazakhstan, Norway,” Ruiz notes. “I have clients in India, the Philippines—all over the world.”
Ruiz is adamant that his identity as a gay man doesn’t impact his work, but rather guides his life’s mission and purpose. “I came out when I was 15 and have refused to go back into the closet. I think it’s important for other little brown queer boys to see somebody that looks like them, to identify with me, and to see that they, too, can reach success in whatever field they pursue.”
“There’s so much untapped talent and potential in our community, and I want kids to tap into that.” —Luis Ruiz
Despite his childhood encounters with racist educators, Ruiz chooses to find inspiration in the teachers and community members that gave him the support he needed to get where he is today. “Being a migrant farm worker, I always needed school supplies. We were poor, so I often got help from community organizations. One of my favorite memories from childhood was during Thanksgiving when a bunch of bikers showed up at our house with bags and bags of food. I want to be able to give back to the community that I live in. The community helped me a lot along the way.”
Today, Ruiz is giving back to his community with his eighth annual backpack drive on August 5 at his Baytown office. “For me, it’s important to put pens and paper in front of children, because you don’t know who the next great poet or doctor will be,” he says. “For immigrant children, their parents are busy surviving with multiple jobs, so they don’t have the capacity to sit down and do homework with them or read bedtime stories. I want to be able to put that power in kids’ hands. There’s so much talent and potential in our community, and I want kids to tap into that.”
Ruiz, who has supplied area children with 3,000 backpacks to date, suggests that others wanting to align with his mission should consider adopting a local public-school teacher by stocking their shelves with supplies, so they won’t be forced to buy supplies with their own money.
Ruiz grew up with the odds stacked against him, but he strived for excellence regardless and is now returning his gifts back to his community. “My event is open to the public—if you need help, it’s here. We have kids that come year after year, and now they’re in college. It’s amazing to see them grow through life.”
For more info, visit luisruizlaw.com