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Remembering Irene Ruiz | 1 woman's commitment to Latino education in Kansas City lives on

Irene Ruiz leaves behind lasting legacy through library
Irene Ruiz 2.png
Posted at 6:24 AM, Sep 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-18 07:51:11-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sixty oral history interviews with first generation immigrants impacted by the 1951 Kansas City flood — just one of the many priceless contributions Irene Ruiz leaves behind.

"Story telling is an art form, I think that's something my mom — she definitely mastered that," Irene's son, Bret Ruiz, said.

Irene Ruiz passed away earlier this month at the age of 102.

The Texas-born educator moved to Kansas City in the 1960s. After working at Southwest High School for years, she went back to school, got a library science degree from Emporia State and was later hired by the Kansas City Public Library.

Conservant in Spanish, English and Portuguese — as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, she knew first-hand the importance of giving the Latino community a voice.

"One of the biggest challenges with finding books and periodicals published in Spanish back in the 70s — it was very hard to come by — so she would have to order books from Spain because there weren't a lot of books being published here," Bret Ruiz said.

Irene Ruiz

Her push to bring Spanish language materials to Kansas City was one of the many ways Ruiz helped preserve and enrich KC's Latino heritage, and can be seen today inside Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de las Americas, that still houses books and materials in Spanish.

"Starting a Spanish language collection, being bilingual, making sure the community — especially on the west side — always felt welcome in the library, again, really pioneering that," Kansas City Public Library Refugee, Immigrant Services and Empowerment Outreach Manager Julie Robinson said.

It's that community that asked for their beloved library to be named after her and continues to honor her through countless letters.

"She was the person that said 'this is what we need, this is what we have to do and this is what this library needs to do,'" Robinson said.

Bret Ruiz said he hopes his mother's legacy continues to live on by making a difference in Kansas City's Latino community.

"Keeping our library strong and encouraging all students, especially Latinos, to read, write more, to speak well, to write well, to speak up for themselves," Bret Ruiz said.

You can visit Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de las Americas at 2017 West Pennway Street in Kansas City, Missouri.