Manhasset’s Newest Author – Michael Ruiz

The story of a young boy's daring escape from Cuba during the reign of Fidel Castro

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Manhasset’s Newest Author – Michael Ruiz

Michael Bakshandeh

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Once upon a time, a little boy lived in Cuba during a time of great turmoil. Looking out the window, he was always scared and afraid of what could happen. Fidel Castro had just obtained control of the country, and the little boy saw the land he loved slipping away from his fingers. He walked in fear, afraid that his own words could cause him severe legal trouble, up to 20 years in jail. Eventually, this little boy and his family went on to flee the country. Miguelito, the name of this young, little boy, is today the well-known and beloved Michael Ruiz, who currently teaches Spanish and Italian at Manhasset Secondary School. His first time writing a book, Mr. Ruiz was able to magically capture his incredible childhood experiences in his recently published children’s book, Miguelito Leaves Cuba for America, A True Story.

Mr. Ruiz has been teaching for 33 years. Although his teaching career started at Chaminade High School, he has been at Manhasset High School for the past 30 years. Obviously, Mr. Ruiz has made a substantial impact on the foreign language program at school through his intense passion for both Spanish and Italian. Along with his passion for these languages, he also chose to teach because he loves kids and enjoys interacting with them. Even as I was interviewing him, I could tell that this statement was true. In a short period of time, multiple students from grades 7-12 came up to Mr. Ruiz and asked him how he was doing, or said a simple, “What’s up?” To each and every one of these students, Mr. Ruiz gave a gracious greeting; this beyond amazed me. Surprisingly, these students did not even have a clue of the real Mr. Ruiz, the one who was suppressed under the dictator Fidel Castro and was forced to escape his country.

I will now refer to Miguelito as the young Mr. Ruiz seen in the book.

Miguelito was born in Havana, the cosmopolitan capital of Cuba, and lived in a little suburban area of Havana. The memories made in this little suburb were mostly fond. With that said, the new reign of Castro changed everything. As we have learned in history class, Cuba cut off all communications with non-Communist countries. The once buzzing capital of Havana was transformed into a time capsule full of items from before the 50s.

During this time of many difficulties, the most noticeable issue for Miguelito was the lack of food. Miguelito recalls times when there would be nothing in the house but a few slices of bread and water. While Miguelito was grateful that he never actually went hungry, there were times during his life when he was very close to that point. For Mr. Ruiz, one story stood out in his mind. One day, Miguelito’s father was trying to sell headbands to raise some money for his family. He was not expected to come back until the next day. For dinner that evening, Miguelito’s mom cooked five small steaks. They were all served, and because Miguelito was so hungry, he had two. Unexpectedly, Miguelito’s father immediately walked through the door. Starving after a long day’s worth of work, the father ventured towards the fridge and began to open it. With a heavy heart, Miguelito’s mother said, “You will not find any food in there.” Immediately, grief struck poor Miguelito, who had just eaten his father’s meal by accident. With pain in his eyes, Miguelito watched his father go to bed hungry that night.

The pain and suffering of living in Cuba under a communist regime was too much for the Ruiz family to bear. They began searching for options to escape Castro’s firm grasp over Cuba. Miguelito’s uncle was a jeweler, and he was able to pay off an ambassador; in exchange for gold jewelry, the ambassador gave the Ruiz family a visa that would take them to Morocco on a long journey by a cargo boat. In retrospect, Mr. Ruiz sees this as extremely ironic. The United States was less than 90 miles away from Cuba, yet the Ruiz family would have to travel halfway around the globe to escape Castro. There was no time for arguing or complaining, so the Ruiz family happily agreed to travel to Morocco.

Their departure, however, was far from easy; if anything, it was extremely painful. How can you leave behind your family, your friends, and your home without even feeling a pang of remorse? Almost all of their possessions were left behind in Cuba, never to be seen again. Escaping Castro’s control came with a price: all members of the Ruiz family were forced to leave their identities behind and start fresh.

Writing this book was a labor of love for Mr. Ruiz. But it was not without its struggles. At times, the memories evoked when writing his book were too painful for him. It was a large burden to bear, but according to Mr. Ruiz, writing it became a passion. The day his book was first printed was a very rewarding day for Mr. Ruiz. It represented the accumulation of over a year’s work, sweat, and tears. He was finally able to tell his story.

For Mr. Ruiz, his family is the most important thing in his life. He has a son and a daughter who are loved dearly along with his wife Lida. Also very important to Mr. Ruiz is his granddaughter, Hayden, and his mother, whom his book is dedicated to. It’s important to note that while the book is specifically dedicated to his granddaughter and mother, Mr. Ruiz’s main purpose of writing this book was to educate his family on his life in Cuba. Neither his children nor his grandchildren were truly aware of his plight in Cuba. By writing this book, Mr. Ruiz seeks to educate his children on his adventures so they can cherish the freedom we Americans take for granted.

To everyone currently reading this article, Mr. Ruiz has some parting words. First, make sure that family always comes first. As the saying goes, family will remain with you through thick and thin, but friends will come and go. Secondly, be sure to value any freedoms we have. Sometimes, we fail to realize that certain freedoms that we have here are not granted world-wide. For example, I’m sure that I would be in jail right now if Fidel Castro had caught me writing this article, but our Constitution and the United States ensures freedom of the press. Finally, be sure to not take anything for granted. Every morsel of food, every precious moment with our families, every minute with our friends is something to be treasured forever.

Miguelito always knew it would be a tough journey ahead. America is the land of opportunity that attracts the best from all over the world. That is the spirit that our great country has been built upon and the spirit that will prevail. What Miguelito did not know was that he would one day become a beacon of hope for all immigrants searching for their voice and way through society. Through his fantastic career and captivating novel, Mr. Ruiz has truly impacted the world we live in today!

You can purchase Miguelito Leaves Cuba for America, A True Story on Amazon.com, xlibris.com, and even at the Dolphin book store in Port Washington (at a discounted price). Mr. Ruiz’s first book and career have both been extremely successful and the reviews have been amazing! And don’t just take my word for it. This is a review of his book from a user named “Aggie” on Amazon.com:

“Miguel rocks! Loved reading this book :). I would recommend it to both children and adults. Is there going to be a sequel? – Aggie”

Well, Aggie, to answer your question, there will be a sequel! Mr. Ruiz is planning on writing a second book called Miguelito Arrives in Brooklyn from Cuba. This sequel will prove to be a worthy successor of the first, as it chronicles the tough adjustment period Mr. Ruiz faced when he arrived in the United States. Again, this will be a story that many immigrants can relate to. Trying to assimilate to a new culture is extremely difficult, and Mr. Ruiz will once again become the voice of the immigrants as he documents his specific struggles in the Land of the Free.

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