It all began in Heber with a boy’s muddy pair of shoes. The first emotion was anger, which in turn ignited a passion that has led to sidewalks, a new school, funding for the local chess teams and ever-expanding dreams for a better community. Along the way to achieving those successes there have been closed doors and closed minds, funding cuts, protests, allegations of being “a troublemaker,” and accusations of favoritism.
None of it bothers Diahna Garcia-Ruiz, nor is it likely to stop her. A petite woman with a chiming voice and a sometimes easy demeanor, she flashes Erin-Brockovich-like resolve when her hot-button issues are riled.
As a member of both the Heber Public Utilities District board, where she is board president, and the Heber Elementary School board, where she is clerk, her words more often than not result in laser-focused action.
“I ran for the HPUD because there were no sidewalks. One of my nephews came home and his new shoes got muddy. He was heartbroken. I thought it was undignified. What motivated me was to make our community better,” says Garcia-Ruiz, the youngest daughter of Mexican-immigrant parents who raised their children on a farm worker’s wages.
An unincorporated town of just over 4,000, Heber has long been Imperial Valley’s stepchild. Its roots are in the immigrants and farm workers such as Garcia-Ruiz’s parents, Belen and Rosendo Ruiz, who sought a better life than they had in Mexico — resigned that the bulk of those benefits would fall to their descendants.
Garcia-Ruiz didn’t disappoint. A childhood bookworm, she earned an associate degree in journalism from Imperial Valley College and a bachelor’s degree in literature at San Diego State University, Imperial Valley Campus, in Calexico. While in school she worked for the U.S. Postal Service, deciding after graduation it was a good career and is now postmaster in Seeley. Married and the mother of two, she may at one point have seemed an unlikely candidate for the role of provocateur.
Read more about Diahna Garcia-Ruiz in the March/April 2012 edition of Valley Women Magazine in print or our online E-Edition.