Representation, diversity, and the district

by Nadia Eldemerdash | April 2, 2018 7:00 am

Yvanna Cancela talks about her run for State Senate

By Nadia Eldemerdash

In some ways, it was serendipity that brought 30-year-old Yvanna Cancela to the Nevada State Senate in 2016. She was appointed to represent the 10th district in place of Sen. Ruben Kihuen after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. For others, it was a deliberate, if winding, path from one opportunity to another.

A Miami native, Yvanna is the first person in her Cuban family to be born in the United States. She came to politics in 2010 when she worked on Harry Reid’s reelection campaign. Today, Yvanna is a student at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and the executive director of The Citizenship Project, a nonprofit that helps nearly 1,100 immigrants become citizens every year. She is also the first Latina to serve in the State Senate. Yvanna sat down for an interview about the path that brought her to the legislature and what she hopes to accomplish if elected.*

Q: What are your plans for your time at the legislature if elected?

Yvanna: My commitment is that all of my bills next session come from my district, either from an individual, a small business, or a school. For example, I’ve been a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters for going on four years now, and my Little Sister has been in foster care most of her adolescence. She came to me one day and said, ‘I want to make changes to the foster care system.’ Together, the two of us are going to work on a bill.

Q: What are some specific policies you’re planning to work on?

Yvanna: As I mentioned, I am working on a bill that deals with foster care reform and figuring out how to make sure that kids in foster care have access to higher education opportunities.

I want to work on mental health issues. In the district I represent, we deal with the effects of severely underfunded mental health services in a very direct way. We have a ton of homeless people who need access to mental health services and healthcare services, who don’t get them. If we better funded mental health, we may be able to decrease the effect of homelessness in our neighborhoods.

I’m really interested in figuring out how we create more food security in our community. I have a lot of families that go hungry every day, and I got to work with Three Square food bank last session, figuring out some food stamp challenges so that people would continue to receive their benefits. I’m interested in working with them and with the casinos on the Strip to figure out more ways to capture the overflow or remaining food so that we can make sure that we can get it to those who need it most in our community.

I would also like to continue working on transparency in drug pricing and the healthcare system, and looking at transportation policies as well.

Q: That’s very ambitious!

Yvanna: It’s really hard work and it’s not worth doing if you’re not going to dream big about what’s possible.

Q: You are the first Latina Senator in our state government. How do you feel about diversity in local government?

Yvanna: Every person who serves in our legislature brings the experiences of who they are, where they come from, and where they live with them into that building. To me, it’s really important that we have a diverse set of voices that accurately represent not only where our state is but also where our state is going. It’s crazy that it took until 2017 for us to have a Latina in the State Senate at a time when Latinos make up almost 35 percent of our state’s population. It’s investing in having a legislature that’s more reflective of our population that will allow for all the voices of our state to be represented.

Q: How can we empower ourselves as citizens and make sure we are represented?

Yvanna: I think there are three things that need to happen. One is that a person needs to recognize that the political process is a tool for change, and that may mean they want to be a campaign manager for someone that they believe in, it may mean that they want to volunteer for a campaign, it may mean that they want to run themselves, but it starts from a fundamental belief that you can make change through the political process.

The second is that, as a community, we need to raise and invest in that next generation of leadership, so we have to make sure that there’s training, that there’s follow-up, that there are places where people can go to ask questions. The third is that once we actually get people who are brave enough to step forward and run, we have to help them through the process so that they stay connected to the community, so that they have the resources they need to be the kind of leader that actually meets the community’s needs.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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