By Rudy Trujillo
Feeling lucky to be alive, Eddie Ruvalcaba, former East Los Angeles College photography student, has overcome a rough childhood in Boyle Heights – witnessing friends fall into gang lifestyles and drug addiction.
Ruvalcaba nearly swallowed himself up by the dark shadows of the community, one that he still lives in and loves.
Ruvalcaba’s journey to and from college was not unlike others who have to halt their education or have other obligations or priorities come up.
That is why his installation of photography at this week’s “Who Remembers East LA?, The Year Book Exhibit” will undoubtedly have themes familiar to many local residents.
Ruvalcaba’s childhood was shadowed by tragedy. His father died in a car accident when he was one year old, leading him to search for a father figure for the remainder of his childhood. That led to positive and negative decisions.
“I was always looking for that father figure in my life,” said Ruvalcaba. Ruvalcaba did not do so well in school in his early years, simply passing with satisfactory grades.
When he got to Roosevelt High School, Ruvalcaba met Coach Tony Bautista, who coached one of the school’s football squads.
“(Bautista) was one my most inspirational mentors. For the first time in my life, I had a 3.2 GPA,” Ruvalcaba said.
Ruvalcaba started coaching his younger brother’s baseball team when he was in tenth grade. Despite being a coach, he did not have the confidence to play until he was encouraged by another coach to join the Roosevelt team.
After a disastrous game where he contributed to the team’s loss, Ruvalcaba retreated to the pessimism that was so familiar in his life.
Another positive figure, this time his cousin, encouraged Ruvalcaba to persevere. He took his advice and despite academic struggles, became the team’s most valuable player the following season.
Around this time, Ruvalcaba was asked to take pictures for the baseball team he coached. An interest for taking pictures developed.
When he graduated from Roosevelt, Ruvalcaba decided to go to East Los Angeles College. He took some photography classes.
“After a couple semesters, I had to stop school and start working, but I never left the camera,” Ruvalcaba said.
Despite having a positive role model, Ruvalcaba saw violence all around him. “I knew over 25 kids that didn’t make it past 20 years old,” Ruvalcaba said.
Seeing so much death, from violence and drug addiction, Ruvalcaba began to see life through a dark lens, thinking pessimistically about his future. “I thought that would happen to me,” Ruvalcaba said.
The demons that he tried to stay clear of eventually caught up with him and Ruvalcaba starting drinking and using cocaine and crack.
“I was a functional addict,” he said, but several mistakes eventually caused him to lose control completely.
In 1992, Ruvalcaba decided to go to work with the U.S. Forest Service as a firefighter. He still struggled with drug addiction during that time, coming clean only long enough to do his job.
After deciding to give up drugs and alcohol during the 2000 Catholic season of Lent, Ruvalcaba never went back.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Ruvalcaba enlisted in the Marines. He was 30 years-old. He was stationed in Japan for a time and then went to serve in Afghanistan.
After finishing his service, Ruvalcaba returned to ELAC to continue to take photography classes to hone his craft.
He had continued to take photographs throughout his time in the military. During this second time at ELAC Ruvalcaba also took photos for Campus News.
Ruvalcaba was accepted to the Art Center College of Design and went there for some time before his financial aid from the GI Bill ran out.
He currently works as a freelance photographer, mostly for weddings and other events. His passion for helping others continues. He is a mentor at a program for high school students that the ELAC Department of Photography sponsors.
He also volunteers at the Variety Boys and Girls Club and Pueblo del Sol center, teaching photography skills to children.
Ruvalcaba’s said that he hopes his work will inspire up-and-coming artists, as artists from the ’70s inspired him.