Meet State Senator Celina Villanueva
A long time resident of the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago's Southwest side, Celina Villanueva is currently the State Senator for Illinois’ 11th District. The daughter of Mexican immigrant parents from Durango, Mexico, Celina began organizing and advocating for her community at an early age and has been committed to building the power of her community, developing young leaders, expanding voting rights and engaging immigrant communities and allies.
Coming from a working class immigrant family and representing a largely working class district with a large concentration of immigrant communities, Celina takes her work as a legislator personally. She understands the values of hard work, determination and perseverance. Which is why she works tirelessly to bring additional resources and support to her district.
Before becoming State Senator, Celina was appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2018, where she fought tirelessly to ensure that the voices of the communities in her district were heard through the negotiation of several large pieces of history making legislation. In the House, she led the effort to include strong social equity measures in the state’s cannabis laws so that communities harmed by failed drug policies would not be abandoned. Celina also pushed to ensure that 10% of the taxation revenues from cannabis sales in Illinois were focused on addressing mental health issues.
Celina additionally worked to pass several pieces of important legislation that will have resounding impacts on immigrant communities for generations to come. With immigrant rights advocates she worked to pass the Keep Illinois Families Together Act, prohibiting law enforcement from working with ICE. She also worked to pass the RISE Act, that would allow eligible undocumented students and transgender students who are disqualified from federal financial aid to apply for all forms of state financial aid.
It was her work prior to joining the State House at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) that provided Celina with the opportunity to diversify the voices in our democracy by civically engaging immigrant communities in Illinois by helping legal permanent residents become citizens, registering new American citizens to vote, providing civic education among other pursuits. It was at ICIRR where she ran the largest immigrant civic engagement program in the state, registering over 200,000 new American voters. While also working with her community to pressure lawmakers to pass online, same-day and automatic voter registration – all of which are now law.
Prior to joining ICIRR, Celina served as the Director of Organizing at Chicago Votes where she engaged young voters in democracy. Democracy and ensuring the diverse voices are part of the process has been a core issue for Celina and it is work she continues to do as a sitting legislator.
Celina continues to advocate and represent the people of the 11th district with the values and beliefs instilled in her by her family. The belief that people have the right to live openly, freely, have safe communities, ample resources and opportunities and should not be left to fend for themselves.
Celina is also a former union member and Union Steward of her unit under the NOLSW-UAW 2320. A capacity in which she served proudly from 2015 until she was appointed at State Representative in 2018.