Maribel Ruiz’ life is a Cinderella story, Colombian style…
In this version of the classic fairytale, the story swirls around a young girl from South America. One who recalls toting a water bucket to-and-from her humble home in the hills to the community well, so her family could cook a meal.
Maribel was born in Cali, Colombia in 1968 the 2nd daughter born to Umberto and Amelia (a brood of five in all). Umberto worked in construction while Amelia was a traditional stay-at-home mother.
“We were poor and we struggled but I always dreamed—I always thought of a better life. I simply wouldn’t, even as a child, except my station in life.”
When Maribel was 9-years old her family moved to Bogota, the capital city—but it wasn’t OZ that’s for sure…
“I recall the traffic and the masses of people—it was all very exciting, except we were still poor and so it was a bit of a tease.”
And while their living conditions improved, life was far from idyllic. And so Maribel’s immersed herself into books.
By the time she was in high school her father’s presence was less and less as he attempted to find something better for his family.
And finally Umberto caught a break. He found construction work in Panama. Due to visa issues, however, only Maribel and her younger sister accompanied their father—the rest of the family would make the move the following year.
“At first Dad was living with friends while my sister and I lived in a boarding house for girls. My task was to seek a place for the family to live. I ultimately found a home and the three of us were reunited. That’s when I re-started high-school.”
Within a year the entire family was together again—but the family was about to grow!
At seventeen, Maribel was pregnant. Her father was not pleased, but the familial obligation tugged his heart strings—the family stayed intact.
Diana was born.
And I’d always had a natural predilection for make-up and beauty, perhaps it was part of my desire to escape—make-believe—in any event, that’s the course I selected to pursue.
“When my daughter turned two my father laid down the law. They would raise Diana while I was to return to Bogota and learn a trade. I selected beauty school because Bogota was frankly the cosmetic capital of South America. And I’d always had a natural predilection for make-up and beauty, perhaps it was part of my desire to escape—make-believe—in any event, that’s the course I selected to pursue.”
Maribel moved in with her grandparents and began her studies.
“I excelled and finished the course, but living with my grandparents was akin to a prison sentence, especially for a young girl with dreams, desires and goals. I recall coming home late one evening and they wouldn’t let me in the house, tough love, I suspect. I actually slept outside that night. It never happened again,” she says with a hearty chuckle…
Upon returning to Panama Maribel’s father offered up a new directive. It was time for Maribel to seek a place of her own—for her daughter and herself. With the clock ticking, but no real pressure, Maribel sought out employment and found a job as an assistant at a hair salon. Within two months she’d saved enough money to get room for Diana and herself—she was on her way…
“It was tough but I never wavered. I took a lot of buses. I’d drop Diana at Day-Care, get back on the bus and head off to work and then take a bus back to pick her up before taking yet another bus home. And while it was a struggle and while I never considered asking my parents for assistance of any type, my mother used to sneak over with spoons and forks and plates and tins of tuna and sardines—whatever she could scrabble up to keep us going.”
After two years of this rote like existence Maribel met Clayton (a U.S. Army enlistee) at a Panama beach—they began to date.
When Clayton’s tour came to a close he asked Maribel to marry him.
“I accepted his proposal—for the first time I saw a light at the end of the tunnel”
Maribel’s family was ecstatic and the couple wed in Panama before moving to New York City (where Clayton’s parents lived).
“Again, due to visa issues, we had to leave Diana behind with my folks—it took 8-months before she was able to join us.”
And while Maribel found New York City an exciting place to be, she was nonetheless depressed. Her English was poor, she was without her daughter and she was a guest in a home rather than having one of her own.
“I pleaded to be enrolled in English courses and when it was almost time for Diana’s arrival, I further pleaded for a place of our own.
“Clayton put me in charge of house-hunting and I found a Colombian enclave in Jackson Heights, Queens. I was thrilled.
With Diana in school, Maribel soon found work at a modeling academy owned and operated by a fellow Colombian. Maribel’s value was such that the owner wanted her to work more hours. It was agreed that Maribel could pick up Diana and return with daughter to put in a full-time work day.
But her home life was less than suave. “Clayton was spending less and less time at home with us and more and more time in Manhattan working, at his parent’s liquor store.”
Things simply didn’t work out and the marriage ended. And that’s when Armando came into Maribel’s life and with the divorce to Clayton finalized. The trio moved to Florida.
“We had backpacks and little more,” Maribel says wistfully. “We moved into a South Beach motel and spent all our savings while seeking employment. Armando had been promised a job, which never materialized. We lived on ramen noodles for the longest time.”
Eventually, a now pregnant Maribel, found work as a housekeeper at the Fontainebleau while Armando caught on at the Clevelander, to supplement their income the strong-willed Maribel took on a second job at a coffee shop.
When Armando was born, Maribel’s work load came to a screeching halt. Soon falling behind on rent in their North Bay Village apartment, the family was evicted.
“My brother did his best to help. He rented a U-Haul and we found a small furnished apartment. I went back to work once Armando was 6-months old. I got a job at Capri Hair Salon in North Bay Village and worked at a Café in the evening.”
Sadly, marital bliss turned into nuptial nightmares as Maribel, who was working two and three jobs at a time, couldn’t understand how Armando was content working just one.
“I wanted us to grow, to rise, excel, achieve but he seemed content with the status quo.”
Her big break was a full-time job a Jac Design in Bal Harbour. Once she received her first ever tax refund she quickly parlayed the money into her first car—a 1989 Toyota Tercel.
Kissing bliss goodbye, Maribel and Armando separated and Maribel, with her two children, moved into an apartment with her brother.
All the years of dreams and hard work eventually paid off when Maribel was able to afford her first apartment in Hallandale Beach. And it got better as she was soon hired by the European Wax Center in Aventura.
“Things were going great, but my drive and passion apparently alienated me from other workers and I was fired. Once again, I was without an income and that’s when I started working out of my living room. I’d accumulated a loyal following and so business was booming. But after a year I got busted for running and ‘Illegal’ business out of my home. This time I was evicted!”
Knocked down once again, but undaunted, Maribel carried on, this time landing in Hollywood where she caught on with another salon.
If one thing was obvious, however, it was that Maribel simply had to be her own boss and so after a year she found a small space in the Ramada on Hollywood Boulevard and once again began plying her trade.
“Business boomed for the next 5-years,” Maribel says with pride, “But I was up on the 2nd floor now and wanted a storefront. I began to search.”
And that’s pretty much when the fates conspired in the most meaningful of ways. Not only would Maribel find her dream location, she found her dream man in the process!
“Luis was friends with the property owner who happened to be out of the country. So it was Luis who showed me the space. It was a double case of love at first sight.”
The couple have been together ever since!
Currently Maribel and Luis have two spa locations, one at 2040 Polk Street in Hollywood and another in Plantation. Last year Maribel was nominated as business person of the year by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
See, sometimes Cinderella gets the prince and the palace.
Latinarrific salutes Maribel Ruiz…