Fernando Barreto Puts the Ally in Canal Alliance  


Jamie Cole, Contributor

On any morning at Canal Alliance, Fernando Barreto is prepared to undertake the unexpected. Over his morning cup of coffee, Barreto takes a moment to reflect on the goals of his day, both personally and professionally. When he starts his job as Community Engagement Manager at Canal Alliance, he is determined to utilize his position to bring opportunity and welfare to his community. Issues arise through the day but Barreto overcomes each issue with ease and efficiency, projecting confidence and calmness as he works. The residents of the Canal District depend on the success of Canal Alliance and, an immigrant himself, Barreto understands the value of his work, and the need to meet their demands. 

The 45th Presidential Election was in full swing as Barreto made his way to the Bay Area. A native of Venezuela, Barreto’s transition to America was softened by his previous experiences in the country. His parents had brought him and his sister to Ohio years before as they finished their work for college. It was thanks to this that the culture shock he experienced was not as severe. Yet Barreto still faced struggles only an immigrant could understand. For example, learning to “understand the behavior of the community, what’s okay, what’s not okay.”

At the time of his arrival to the country, the words of Republican nominee Donald Trump echoed into every household in the country. His slander against immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Latin America, struck Barreto deeply. 

“I feel frustrated, indignant, I feel I’m not being respected,” Barreto says. “That’s not who I am, that’s not how I’d identify the immigrant community in the US.”

As President Trump’s administration unfolded, Barreto reports he saw the immigrant community “exposed to levels of threat, fear, discrimination, and criminalization never seen before in the history of our country.” 

Barreto knew the situations immigrants were fleeing. In Venezuela, he explained he lived a more privileged life as he had access to great schooling. However beyond his education, he said that living there was “a nightmare.” Fresh water was not guaranteed and electricity was limited throughout the day. He recalled waiting in twelve hour lines for the grocery store, only to find the food had been depleted by the time he got in. By coming to the Bay Area and joining Canal Alliance, he was able to live comfortably and provide the help he knew immigrants needed. 

A position, which began as a part time job, quickly transformed into Barreto’s career. Alongside he works relentlessly to provide resources such as gaining citizenship, learning English, getting a high school or college education, and providing affordable food. 

Ismari Maldonado, a fellow employee, began working at Canal Alliance in June or 2019. As a Legal Assistant for Immigration Legal Services, she often looked to Barreto for help. “He’s very on top of his work,” she says. “He has helped me when I have had questions.” She describes Barreto as communicative and respectful, all things which boost the quality of his work.

With the emergence of Covid-19, Barreto found his work even more vital to the welfare of the Latino community. He explained that Latinos are the essential workforce for Marin, making up the restaurant, construction, cleaning, and landscaping workforces. Along with maintaining services for the rest of the county, they must also work to pay for their essential needs. Not working is not an option for them. So while the rest of the county shut their doors and huddled down, the residents of the Canal put their masks on and continued to work. 

“We are like an ecosystem and we depend on each other… the immigrant community has been out there as essential workers…and given [us the] opportunity to stay home,” Barreto says. 

Consequently, the virus found its way quickly into the Latino community. The mass spread of the virus through the Canal was, and continues to be, largely attributed to the close quarters which most residents live in. Population of the Canal, roughly 13-14 thousand people, is similar to Mill Valley. However the Canal District takes up a mere 2.5 sq mile radius while Mill Valley spans around 4.8 sq miles. Additionally, the prices of their homes are competitive with the rest of Marin, meaning the prices of their apartments can cost as much as 700k. As a result, many families live together to share costs, thus spreading the virus faster. 

Canal Alliance continues to provide testing and assistance for Covid-19, but Barreto’s focus has shifted to the next looming issue. With the 2020 election only weeks away, voter registration within the Canal has become his priority. Issuing phone calls to get Canal residents registered, offering candidate forums, and providing general voter information are all things he has been eager to work on. Through his efforts, he has been able to register forty Canal residents for this years election

“This election is going to be key to start changing from the root, the narrative around immigrants,” Barreto says. It is a chance to address the issue of equity within the county, starting from the top. 

Within the four years of his service to Canal Alliance, Barreto has worked to sculpt a place for himself and his community in an ever hostile society. Now, he is in the position to both create and embody change in the shifting political and social climate. With this responsibility on his shoulders, he starts every morning “with a big thank you to life for giving me opportunity to keep on doing what I love for one more day”