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UC Irvine Professor Honored at White House by President Obama

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Professor of History and Chicano/Latino studies, Vicki Ruiz was honored as a recipient of the 2014 National Humanities Medal. Ruiz is one of 10 honorees from universities nationwide who received the award.

The National Humanities Medal recognizes those who have enhanced the perception of the humanities and expanded citizen involvement with history and literature.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our very deserving Professor Vicki Ruiz,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “She is a first-rate academic, campus leader and tireless researcher of immigrant women’s stories, and these are the kinds of histories we don’t hear often enough.”

Managed by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency, medals and other distinctions have been given since 1996. Many organizations and various scholars nationwide are also invited to select individuals who deserve such as an award. The agency’s presidential and Senate-confirmed body then examines the nominations and provides recommendations to the President of the United States, who selects the recipients of the award.  

The National Endowment for the Humanities grants support research, education, and other public programs in the humanities, resulting in the publication and preservation of thousands of books, films, museum exhibits and other scholarly work.

Other honorees include History and African-American studies professor Evelyn Higginbotham, chef and author Alice Waters, screenwriter and author Larry McMurtry, professor of gender and cultural legal studies Fedwa Malti-Douglas, architect Everett Fly, Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and author Stephen King.

Dedicating much of her academic career in chronicling the stories of Latinas fighting for civil and labor rights, Ruiz’s expertise is in 20th century United States history and Mexican-American women in the Southwest.

“We all know stories about neighborhood women, but if you look at the panorama of their experiences, their names are often hidden in organizational minutes, in government diaries, in newspapers…Once their stories emerge, you get a sense of their courage” explained Ruiz.

Spending summers alongside prominent Latino civil rights leaders such as Luisa Moreno in 1978, Ruiz published her experience through her research on Mexican-American women in the Southwest, “Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950” in 1987.

Ruiz also co-edited “Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia,” a three-volume set with over 600 entries and 300 photographs documenting the contributions of Latinas to the economic and cultural growth of the United States. The encyclopedia was named a 2007 Best of Reference book by the New York Public Library and an Outstanding Title by the Association of American University Presses.

Earning both her master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, Ruiz joined the UC Irvine faculty in 2001. She was named Dean of Humanities in 2008 and now heads the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies in the School of Social Sciences.

Among numerous distinctions, Ruiz was named “Woman of the Year in Education” by Latina magazine in 2000 and named Distinguished Professor of History and Chicano/Latino studies at UCI. She also serves on the boards of both Imagining America and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

“Vicki Ruiz’s scholarship is a powerful testament to the ways the humanities can deepen and enrich our understanding of the world as well as the lives of those who have made a difference to how we live in the world,” said Georges Van Abbeele, Dean of the School of Humanities at UC Irvine. “She could not be more deserving of this honor, and we at the Humanities remain indelibly proud of her.”

Ruiz received her medal from President Obama at the White House on Thursday Sept. 10.