We Had Our Reasons: Poems by Ricardo Ruiz and Other Hardworking Mexicans from Eastern Washington - Ruiz, RicardoI don’t normally include books of poetry on this website, because I’m interested in the stories (true or fictional) of the second generation. I made an exception for We Had Our Reasons, published in 2022, because it is based on true stories. Ricardo Ruiz is a Mexican-American poet born and raised in Othello, Washington. His parents were farm workers at first, but once they became permanent residents of the U.S., they were able to find jobs in a potato factory. Ruiz spoke to me recently about what inspired him to write the book, and how he put it together.

Ruiz’s children, ages 13 and 14, provided one inspiration for the book. His children live in Texas with their mother, who is not Mexican-American. They don’t speak Spanish. Ruiz wanted to tell them not only his own stories, but also the stories of other Mexican-Americans. Another inspiration for the book was William Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads. “Wordsworth wanted to write poems for the average man in the average tongue,” Ruiz told me. “I thought, why not do this? Poetry in its original form was a form of storytelling.”

He conducted interviews with 13 Mexican-Americans, including his older brother, who happens to work for ICE. He then selected the stories which had poetic potential, wrote poems based on those stories as well as his own stories, and chose 48 poems for the book. Each poem was then translated into Spanish by Brianna Salinas. The English poems are printed on the left-hand page, and the Spanish translations on the right. Ruiz tried to reflect in each poem the language of the teller. He points out that the poems tend to be short. “I wanted to tell a story with a lot of emotion, and with speed and quickness,” he says, “for the short attention span of my kids.”

The book is divided into five sections, starting with border crossing poems and continuing on to arrival in the United States, working, deportation, and joining gangs or groups. “Often people only want to talk about the border crossing,” Ruiz says. “But what happens next? What happens to the children?”

One poem that contrasts the experiences of two generations is “We Had This Camcorder: Mother and Son Duet” (p. 42). Ruiz wrote the poem based on stories by Jose and his mother Lorena.

The hardest thing from that move
He always did love videos

I remember we had this camcorder
We had this camcorder

I would take it everywhere
He would always take it everywhere

I don’t know what happened to it
I know what happened to it

There are no pictures from back then
There wasn’t enough money to get us here back then

It was one of the most valuable things we had
It was one of the most valuable things we had

It must of got lost
We had to sell it

I still think about it
I still think about him looking for it

I wish we still had it
I wish we didn’t need to sell it

That was the hardest part
That was so hard to part with

We Had Our Reasons fulfills Ruiz’s goal of poems which tell emotion-filled stories in the common person’s language. This is a big-hearted book suitable for teens and adults. The last section of the book introduces us to the collaborating storytellers, including snippets from their interviews. It is fascinating to compare the raw interview language to the finished poem. Find out more about Ricardo Ruiz on his website, https://www.poetruiz.com/

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