Hi, I'm Rubén
WHERE I COME FROM
I am Ruben Cruz running for NYS State Senate District 16. I grew up in this “All American” neighborhood where I struggled to be accepted.
My family is Puerto Rican. My mom, like many women at the time, left school at 14 years old to work at a textile factory doing “piece work” alongside with my grandmother and aunt to support the family. Eventually, she met and married my dad and had my brother and I. When they got divorced in the late 60’s, about 1 in 250 Americans were getting divorced, which was a big thing at the time. (Nowadays, roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce.) It was a time of change and independence and violence. As a single mom with two kids, we entered the welfare system. But we never felt poor. My mom knew how to stretch a dollar and keep our clothes looking nice.
We moved to Queens from Brooklyn when I was 7 years old. I had a strong lisp and a stutter and was really lucky to have this nice speech therapist in school to help me. I remember feeling like we moved to the country although it was only a few stops from the train station
My brother and I were the only Puerto Ricans in the neighborhood. But I was the dark skinned one. Bullying and fights were almost a daily affair, with me often in the principal's office for “starting” another fight against three or four kids. At times, even the bully would yell out for me to just “stay down”, but I kept getting up, Black-eyed and bloody lipped, but standing, until they gave up.
One time some ten kids surrounded me in the school yard. They all jumped on me punching and kicking. Most of them were in each other's way, so I didn’t get hurt much. I’ll never forget the toothy, grizzly grin of the security guard leaning against the rail at the entrance to the school just a few feet away, watching, smiling. But the worst thing was that one kid. I never saw who it was, but there I was on a bright sunny day with ten kids piled on me and my hand sticking out on the pavement. And that one kid was standing near my hand, and ever so slowly, raised the Pro-Ked covered foot and gently pressed it down on my outstretched hand. Soon, I felt the alcohol breathed, toothy, grizzly guard grab a fistful of my collar and pull me up and swung me hanging by my collar to the principal’s office for “starting” another fight.
Eventually, my brother and I were let out of school five minutes early every day to give me "a head start".
I hated the color of my skin. My family was worried and helpless to do anything. My dad would pick us up on the weekends and started giving me books about my culture and taking us out to explore the wonders of the city in museums and parks.
But things started to change. Soon, more people started moving in from different countries & religions like Guyana and Pakistan. Can you imagine that? I remember, I used to love walking through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon to the smell of spaghetti & meatballs & sausage coming from one house, and up the block, the aroma of Oxtail soup with curry.
One day, my dad introduced me to a man he was campaigning for. It was Herman Badillo, was a Puerto Rican politician who served as borough president of The Bronx and United States Representative, and ran for Mayor of New York City. He was the first Puerto Rican elected to these posts, and the first Puerto Rican mayoral candidate in a major city in the continental United States.
There we were in his campaign bus and he seemed bigger than life. He was like me, I was like him. It changes how you see yourself.
And change continued in my neighborhood. We all grew and matured. And started to understand each other a little better.
One time, in our debate class, we were debating the welfare system. I’m still amazed how little the debate has changed from the 1970’s to the present day. I stood up and told the class I was on welfare. The looks on everyone’s face, the silence. Have you ever revealed something secret about yourself? There were things you didn’t talk about in those days like; you are on welfare or, you are gay, or you are whatever.
I looked the class in the eyes and told them how I was proud of my mom for how she took care of us. I told them how the landlord took $25 dollars off the rent every month in exchange for my brother and I keeping the building clean and taking out the garbage. I told them how I got my Work Permit for minors at 14 years old to work at the lumber yard sweeping or an electrician’s office sorting wires and screws. I looked them in the eyes. The bell rang, the class ended. It never came up again.
After class, my teacher pulled me aside and told me how brave I was. I remember the breath I took before I revealed I was on welfare. But was it brave? It was the truth. And the truth is: I will always stand up again and again in defense of the truth. It was true then, it’s true now.
I bought my first house across the street from my elementary school P.S. 62 right in front of that school yard entrance. My neighbor happened to be one of the kids from my class. Can you imagine that? We became great friends. We never talked about those days in school. It was like the bullying and prejudice of those times was the immaturity of our youth.
How much has changed since then? How do we all get along now? Well, it isn’t easy. But we’re still here, living together, learning together, growing together. This is the NEW American Neighborhood. And I’m pretty proud of it.
I left corporate America in 2006 and started my own company with my wife. I consult and assist non-profit organizations in Health & Wellness and Arts & Culture programs. Our main focus is Seniors and Children. We currently work with over a dozen senior centers throughout the metropolitan area as well as the Department of Education and Parks and recreation. I've worked with several City Council members providing services to seniors and children. We recently completed a 2-hour documentary on seniors living in the time of COVID-19 entitled Echos in a Glass. I was named New Yorker of the Week by NY-1 for my work with seniors.
My next door neighbor is a C.P.A. and a Progressive Democrat. My neighbor across the street is a Steel Workers Union Member and a Conservative Republican. The last big snow we had, my neighbor across the street plowed both mine and my next door neighbor’s sidewalk and driveway. My next door neighbor helped me figure out a business tax problem and redid them for free. For my part, I’ve helped repair both my neighbor’s front doors. The truth is that here, where I grew up, on my block, in our District, Neighbors come before Politics.
But we’re living in a new world where all the old platform terms and platitudes are no longer valid. We need to work, figure out how to get to work, and work on protecting our kids and elderly. Even now, our elderly are losing their homes to high taxes and scammers putting liens on their homes without their knowledge.
We’re neighbors, and neighbors help each other out. Together we can help nurture our Children and protect our Seniors. We are a Rich mix of cultures and religions that make up our NEW American Neighborhood. We need dedication and deserve dedication. This is where I live, this is where I work, this is where I will dedicate myself and stay.
I’m Ruben Cruz. I ask for your vote to represent you and all our neighbors in NYS State Senate District 16. Thank you.
duck, duck, Goose
Let's face it. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.
Whether they have red or blue feathers, party politics is mostly a game of duck, duck, Goose with a "What's in it for me?" culture that treats it all like a big party.
And we're left to clean up the mess.
I grew up in here and have made a difference in the lives of Seniors and Youth throughout New York City by good ol' hard work that I learned right here.
My neighbors ARE my business and I always lead from the front.
Learn about me and the solutions that will help us here in our District.
Your vote shouldn't be like playing a game of duck, duck, Goose.
I'm Rubén Cruz, and I want to represent you in NYS State Senate District 17