Interview with Alberto Barragan

We welcome Alberto Barragan as our New Director of Prevention.  Recently, I spent a few minutes getting to know Berto (as he prefers to be called), and wanted to share a bit of his story.

Personal History

Alberto initially spent four years in the military with the U.S. Marine Corps, and also later returned there for a follow-up tour of duty in Afganistan.  His time in the military involved serving as a telecommunications engineer; he also helped to run the military switchboard while in Afganistan.

When he left the Marine Corps in 2005, Berto returned to his home near Chicago, where for the first time, he began to seek out volunteer opportunities, specifically in the area of support groups for gay men. 

Berto says he grew up not knowing anything about AIDS/HIV.  He also sadly admits, “There was no discussion of safe sex practices in the military”.  However, everything changed for him, when he was profoundly touched by a close friend in Chicago, who was newly diagnosed as HIV positive and shared that ominous news with him.  This friend was only 21 years old at the time.  Berto was very disappointed that he found himself “unable to help my friend in some meaningful way after he was diagnosed as positive”.  That situation resonated with him to create a new personal priority for wanting to keep others negative and safe from HIV/AIDS, particularly those in their youth.  He confesses to always being “deeply affected, when any young person is experiencing the news of becoming newly HIV positive”.

Having been inspired by the cause, he soon became a test counsellor at Project VIDA and eventually assumed the leadership role for support groups within the Chicago agency.  In particular he highlights his work there as being focused on various target populations: one being individuals aged 13 to 24, another for those age 25 and above, and a third for high-risk heterosexual men having with a gang influence in their lives.

Being a young man, Berto has moved around quite a bit in recent years.  He has spent several years each in Albuquerque and California, as well as more recently in San Antonio.  He moved to San Antonio specifically with the idea of maximizing how his income could afford himself a more comfortable lifestyle in Texas versus other places he had lived.  He also really wanted to retreat from a cold weather environment.

Why He’s Here

Berto comes to ASA from the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, where he served in a similar capacity as their Director of Testing.  Berto chose to come to ASA because he viewed this as an opportunity for personal growth, in part because he managed a much smaller work team in San Antonio.  He also highly values the expansiveness of ASA’s mission, when he says, “ASA’s approach to serving the community is much more holistic, than my previous assignment in San Antonio”.

Berto hopes that people will view him as “easily adaptable” as the new Director of Prevention here at ASA.  He truly enjoys working with others and he expects to have success in his new role in large part because of that desire to help others.

The New Age of Prevention

One of the main reasons Berto took the Prevention Director position here is that he feels that unlike his previous assignment, ASA already has the mechanisms in place to be able to expand new and existing services within the community.  For example, Berto considers ASA to be ahead of the curve when compared to other HIV/AIDS prevention agencies, in that there is a focus here on advocating for PReP as a key prevention strategy.

Three additional strengths of the ASA cultural environment that stand out to him include: 

  • Our emphasis on Empowerment as a means of encouraging active control and/or change,
  • Our desire to be innovative and forward-thinking, and
  • Our prevalent use of social media in external communications.

When looking towards an ideal future, Berto aspires, “to see all HIV/AIDS positive persons actively managing their health situations.”  In addition, he feels that “Now more than ever, the tools exist to help make prevention much more successful than in the past.” 

Berto also believes the time has finally come for success in addressing the obstacles posed within society by both cultural and religious influences.  In that regard, he longs to see more comprehensive sex education in schools and would like all HIV negative members of society to choose to include annual testing for HIV, as part of their routine proactive health management plan.

Personal Transition

Berto has only been in Austin for only two weeks now.  As of yet, he says he does not have a feel for how easy or difficult the transition from San Antonio will be for him.  

Berto shared that he feels, “Austin would be better suited to my personal desires, given the emphasis on living an active lifestyle is so prevalent here”.  Outside of work at ASA, he is hoping to get involved in one or more of Austin’s gay sports associations.  Currently, he is looking at the flag football league just now starting-up here.  Berto admits to some recent back issues, but hopes his physical stature will make him a good candidate for an interior lineman on a prospective team.  Berto predicts he can make an impression there by, “showing off some of my fancy moves”, and good-naturedly hopes that will compensate for any liability in “not being able to run very fast!”  Berto says he might also consider Austin’s softball or volleyball leagues as well.