Berta Campos-Anicetti emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was 16 years old. She did not speak English and faced the many struggles of being a new immigrant. The gifts and challenges of those experiences have informed her work and given her great compassion for the difficulties that are faced by newcomers to this country. She has focused her career and volunteer work on human rights and the health and wellness of immigrants, in particular Latine and low-income communities.
Berta’s journey in the United States started when she arrived in her senior year in high school. Like many families from El Salvador, she came running away from civil war. Her parents were teachers and many of their coworkers and family members were being kidnapped, tortured, and/or killed. After their father was beaten by government soldiers, her parents decided to send Berta and her sister to live with an aunt in San Francisco. The irony was that Berta came to live in a dangerous neighborhood and the high school she went to had gang fights and assaults often. Students were escorted by hall guards (campus supervisors) to the bus stop down the hill, so that they wouldn’t get mugged on the way to catch the bus home.
Berta’s story is similar to many coming to the United States, including facing family separation, and inadequate living situations–like her entire family living in one bedroom once her parents arrived two years later. Despite the continued challenges, Berta studied and worked babysitting, cleaning homes, in restaurants, and as an accounting clerk to help pay for home expenses. She became the head of household at 18 years old, negotiating with the landlord once her family was able to rent a place, balancing the family’s checking account, and interpreting for her parents when getting medical care because she had learned English faster than other family members.
Berta was considered “la negrita de la familia” (the one with the darkest skin in the family), meaning that she didn’t get a lot of praise for her appearance growing up. She also never found excitement in traditional responsibilities of a young woman, like cooking and cleaning. She did however love learning, and books became her heaven. She enjoyed reading, studying new things, and sharing the knowledge she learned with others. Berta says that if it wasn’t for her good grades and having solid educational goals, she would have gotten in trouble at home for not being a good, traditional Latina woman. As a young woman, Berta learned to be comfortable with not fitting in, and finding her own way of being. Rather than trying to do what others or society wanted of her, she decided to do what she enjoyed.
Berta’s family and the challenges they faced deeply influenced her passion for justice and learning. Berta learned to speak up about injustice from her father, going to protests with him since she was 3 years old, mostly advocating for better salaries for teachers. She also learned to love math and science from him. She grew up watching her mother help the world, even getting herself into deeper debt to help her close friends. Berta and her family didn’t have a lot of resources, but she was surrounded by a lot of love and high expectations for education. As her mother said frequently “education is the only inheritance we can give you and no one can take that away from you. You can work and study to help us pay the bills, but if your grades go down, we won’t take a penny from you – even if we go hungry.”
Facing so many challenges as an immigrant inspired Berta to continue studying and work for nonprofits to help the community, and she was fortunate to discover the world of public health. Berta is honored to have become a support and role model for others over the years, because she was fortunate to have a few strong women of color who showed her the way–how to believe in herself, learn from her mistakes, find resources, and keep going when things got hard.
As the former Health Education Director at the Novato Youth Center and recently retired Director of Latine Programs at North Marin Community Services, Berta was integral in launching a teen pregnancy prevention program, the Novato Teen Clinic, a Promotores Program, and a Program for Newcomer Youth. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Health from U.C. Berkeley and has over 33 years of experience working with Latine and low-income young people and their families.
Berta is well known for the development and growth of the longest running Promotores Program in Marin, which identifies natural leaders in the community who are supported to build their own skills to do peer-to-peer work and use their leadership to improve the health and wellbeing of the community. Berta and the promotores she worked alongside have ensured that equity, diversity, and inclusion are prioritized within private and public sectors. Her advocacy, education, and action-oriented approach to community collaboration have helped to build lasting bridges between government and community.
Berta has been an active volunteer over the years. She has served on the Site Leadership Team and PTA Board at San Ramon Elementary; as a Lynwood parent representative in the Blue Ribbon Coalition and NUSD Gate Advisory; and as a representative in various Diversity Committees. Berta was also a steering committee member of United for Safe Schools Novato (USSN), and a former board trustee at the Novato Youth Center, School Fuel and Marin Academy. She is also a volunteer docent at the Robert Ferguson Observatory.
Berta is a passionate advocate for her community and continues to make a lasting contribution to the community at large. In 2008, she received the Novato Multicultural Commission Rene Lopez Faces of Novato award; in 2009, the Marin County Human Rights Commission Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian award; in 2011, Empowering the Latino Community Leadership Award, North Bay Leadership Council; and in 2021 the Latino Leadership Award from the North Bay Business Journal. Her commitment to fostering cross-cultural understanding and building interpersonal respect has helped make Novato and Marin County a better place for us all to live.