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Ram Ayala’s son and his quest to take over what — he says — belongs to the family

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Photo: Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

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At about 2 a.m. Cruz got the call. His mother Tina and older brother Mark were too distraught to respond at first, so he went to the hospital by himself, finding Ram on a gurney covered by a sheet. “It was really bad,” he said. “We were all in shock, we didn’t know what to do.” Minutes later, a tall man entered the room, approached the body and began crying. Although Eddie Cruz had never seen the man before, he tried to console him. “I was comforting him, ‘Yeah, I know how you feel,’” Eddie Cruz said. After a few minutes, the sobbing man murmured, “Dad.”

“I was like, ‘What?!’ But at that time I controlled myself and just shook his hand and gave him a hug,” Cruz said. “So there I am, mourning the violent loss of my father, and at the same time discovering that I had a brother and that my father had two families.”

Most people I asked either didn’t know much about Ram Ayala’s private life, or remembered Tina as the wife. But Ram’s death brought two women and seven children together for the first time, leading to a years-long court dispute over Ram’s legacy and Taco Land. On March 9, 2007, the Express-News, while reporting on the end of the trial of Joseph Gamboa (Ram’s murderer), introduced Taco Land regulars to Agnes Ayala, Ram’s widow. Tina Cruz — who says she changed her two sons’ names from Ayala after growing tired of Ram’s infidelities — was described simply as “the mother of two of Ayala’s children.”

Eddie Cruz said the revelation wasn’t a complete surprise. For years, people would ask him, “How’s your sister?” or “How’s such-and-such?”

“I always smelled something, but I couldn’t confirm anything, so I let it go,” he said.

Tina knew Agnes as “Ram’s ex-wife” and claims Ram had shown her a divorce certificate. What she didn’t know was that Ram and Agnes had a full house of kids as well. “I only knew about one girl, not five kids,” Tina said.

Even before Manuel Ayala first met Eddie Cruz in front of Ram’s corpse, he introduced himself to Tina Cruz, who had pulled herself together and followed behind her son. “What are you going to do with the club?” Tina recalls him asking. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry about Taco Land; what you have to do now is go see your father.” She was confused, sad, and angry. “All he cared about was the club. All he talked about was the jukebox and Taco Land,” she said.

On July 2, 2005, a blog dedicated to all things Taco Land called tacolandstories posted the obituary. “Ramiro ‘Ram’ Ayala passed on Friday June 24, 2005. He is survived by his wife of 49 years Agnes, their children Sylvia (Alfred) Navarro, Manuel (Linda) Ayala, Ramiro (Patricia) Ayala Jr., Ernest (Leticia) Ayala, and Barbara (Damien) Lopez.”

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