Ruth Behar, Self-Made Anthropologist, Writer & Professor

Ruth Behar’s family is both extremely Cuban and very Jewish. Her family left Cuba by way of Israel, and eventually settled in New York. Growing up, her family’s lifestyle was a mix of cultures – they spoke Spanish at home and celebrated Jewish holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur. They enjoyed pork dishes at Cuban Restaurants and ate kosher dishes at home.

This fusion of cultures always felt normal to Ruth, until she went to college where suddenly being Cuban and Jewish seemed weird to everyone. Her heritage and identity came into question, and became even more meaningful for Ruth from then on.   

Growing up as an immigrant made a huge impact on how Ruth thinks about herself, how she views the world, and how she has shaped her life. Her experiences as a Cuban and a Jewish immigrant, along with an insatiable curiosity about her heritage and identity, led her to create a career that didn’t exist before, forging her own path as an anthropologist, professor, poet and novelist.

She transformed the pain of leaving her homeland into a creative outlet and a fulfilling career that connects her identity with her love of culture.  She has lived and worked in Spain, Mexico and her homeland Cuba, discovering her family’s heritage and exploring question of culture, identity and home. Ruth’s life has come full circle with the many pieces of the puzzle all coming together.

4 Lessons to Take from Ruth Right Now

Even When You Feel Doubt, Have Faith & Keep Moving Forward

Ruth tended to doubt herself tremendously along her career journey, often questioning what she was doing. Yet, another part of her always had faith and she would move forward anyway. Ruth shares that it’s okay to self-question, but you move forward at the same time and do it anyway. Have faith, and everything will come together.  

Failure Doesn’t Define You  

After Ruth finished her PHD, she completely bombed her job interview at a university. After the set-back, she thought maybe she wasn’t cut out for academic work, so she moved to Mexico to continue her field work. Three years later, she applied for and was awarded fellowships at two universities, and then landed a job as a professor in Michigan.

Embrace the Serendipity of Life

Throughout our lives, we often encounter people and new opportunities we never imagined. Be open to the surprises and serendipity of life, accepting all the gifts that come your way and embracing the people who are there to help you.

It’s Never Too Late to Pursue New Paths

At the age of 60 Ruth published her first novel for kids, Lucky Broken Girl, something she never expected to do. Ruth shows us that it’s never too late to change, to learn, to do new things, and to pursue a new craft.  And you don’t always have to get it right the first time. You do your best and do it because you love it.