“We are parents who live in the Canal and after work we dedicate time to volunteer, to address the problems of the community,” says Darlin Ruiz. “The things we have did not come easily. I am very happy that when I walk on the streets, I see the achievements that have been done in my community, and that my family understands how important it is to support where you live.”
Darlin is co-founder of Voces del Canal, a volunteer advocacy group that is focused on improving the health and economic wellbeing of Canal residents. Voces del Canal was launched a decade ago, in partnership with Canal Alliance, Dominican University of California, and the Data Center, with an unprecedented research project that identified the community’s vision, in which families can fulfill their full potential and have a safe, healthy, thriving quality of life.
The resulting report, ‘Building Safety Communities through Strong Partnerships in the Canal,’ has served as a roadmap for the work ahead; Voces del Canal community leaders have since advocated for more equitable public infrastructure, public education, economic development, and access to sports and the arts.
“Darling steps up to lead in all the spaces she enters,” said Rose Costello, Canal Alliance’s Civic Engagement Senior Manager, who works closely with Darlin on advocacy initiatives. “Whether it’s in her family, church, the Canal community, or Marin County as a whole, Darling’s long-standing commitment to working for equity for her family, neighbors, and future generations is palpable; it’s felt through her warm words of welcome, her genuine curiosity and care for others, and her skill to connect people with information and resources that could support them.
Darlin is a community activist at heart. She began organizing in her hometown, a small rural community outside of Mexico City, that lacked basic infrastructure. Under her leadership, her community advocated for running water, telephone, street sanitation and public transit.
Yet the economic opportunities were limited, and Darlin struggled to raise five children on her own. She came to the U.S. nearly two decades ago and started her own housecleaning business to support her family. She took computer literacy and ESL classes offered by Canal Alliance.
Darlin got involved with neighborhood cleanup projects and turning around a high rate of vehicle impoundment, then joined Voces Del Canal to focus her efforts on broader community issues. “I joined Voces,” Darlin said at the time, “because I am very concerned about the future of the Canal, especially for my children who are growing up here. I want to help the community in any way I can.”
Darlin’s advocacy efforts shifted quickly when pandemic hit. The Latino immigrant community, largely front-line workers, faced high rates of infection and barriers to health care, and Voces del Canal volunteers became an instrumental part of a county-wide public health outreach team.
Working with Canal Alliance’s advocacy and Covid-19 teams, Darlin and fellow community leaders focused on reducing barriers so that that community could access testing and vaccinations – things like transportation, technology, and language interpretation.
“We took classes so we could learn about health,” Darlin explains. “We were knocking on doors; we were giving information to all the residents here in the Canal. We were doing testing, making appointments for vaccines. We were creating consciousness with all the neighbors.”
The outreach was pivotal to the health of the community and the safe re-opening of Marin County: a high rate of infection rate was turned into a high rate of vaccination. In recognition of their leadership, Voces del Canal was honored by the YMCA of Silicon Valley with their honorary Tribute to Women Award in 2022 for significant advancement in tackling issues that disproportionately impacted the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael.
According to Darlin, “the lighting project has been one of the most beautiful projects I have worked on. To see the results and hard work of Voces del Canal is gratifying. New lights and poles have been added all over the neighborhood. We are thankful for the incredible support of all our partners, especially from Canal Alliance’s Rose Costello and Cristina Parra. We are never alone.”
Now, the next big project for Voces del Canal is relating to public housing and evictions. We are still very much in the early phase of planning, but we want to enact rent control and have accessible, clean housing for families, a place you can feel good about. You have 2-3 families in the Canal living in one apartment. Some people work 2-3 jobs just to make the rent.
For example, two leaders of Voces del Canal are working to help people who live at 400 Canal know about their rights as tenants. We have been organizing and will continue advocating for community members. We show up to various forums and meetings to show support for tenants facing eviction.”
Canal Alliance’s Rose Costello shared: “It is an honor to accompany and learn from Darling and community leaders who have been at the forefront of community struggle for justice for decades and still continue to advocate for community solutions to foster equity in education, housing, health, employment, and opportunity. When many more of us look to, amplify, and take action towards the vision of an equitable future that leaders like Darling have advocated for decades, Marin County will be on the path towards equity and justice.”
We are proud to stand with Voces del Canal, to fight for equitable services that improve quality of life for Latino immigrants – public health, public safety, and public transit.