Advocate with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Yannina Casillas. I am the Legislative and Government Affairs Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California (CAIR). CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding...
I am originally from Moreno Valley, California. I moved to Sacramento to work on state legislative affairs for the Muslim community. Through my work at CAIR, I also have the privilege of working on local government affairs issues in the greater Sacramento area.
I am the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation college student. I graduated UCLA with a B.A. in Anthropology and UC Hastings College of the law with a focus on social justice lawyering.
How are you making a difference in your community?
In Sacramento, my work consists of representing the Muslim community in local city council meetings, commissions, and school districts on issues ranging from school bullying, hate crimes, immigration, surveillance, and community policing.
The issues I am most passionate about are school bullying and immigration. Locally, I have met with school district representatives from Folsom Cordova and Sacramento City Unified regarding school bullying incidents on Muslim students and refugees. As an advocate, I provide insight on cultural competency tools schools' can use to support their Muslim and refugee students. In addition, I provide tips on implementing better communication practices between parents, students, and the school districts. Along with my advocacy work, I actively engage with local Muslim K-12 students on bullying. As a CAIR representative I frequently visit local Muslim Student Associations at High Schools and Universities to provide workshops on bullying and ways to create safe learning environments. CAIR also releases an annual school bullying report based on surveys submitted from Muslim 7th-12 grade students across California. To support our anti-bullying work, I led a workshop on bullying in Folsom and surveyed students from all over Sacramento County for our bullying report.
Locally, for my work on immigration, I am a member of the Sacramento City Safe Haven Task Force. The task force is a collaboration of many community organizations and leaders in Sacramento. Through our work, we successfully updated Sacramento City's Sanctuary Ordinance and created the FUEL Network to facilitate the implementation of the $300,000 funding for immigration relief services by the City of Sacramento.
What inspires your community efforts?
As a Mexican-American convert to Islam, I am part of an almost non-existent minority group that has overcome many unique challenges. With my dual identity, I can understand the struggles of two very different communities, and am adept at empathizing with other communities, by recognizing similar obstacles and commonalities. I have learned the impact policy and law can have on different communities and the various obstacles communities face. My experience inspires me to work together with my peers to make decisions that support the welfare of many vulnerable communities.
What have you struggled most with in your life?
At fourteen, I was shot in the abdomen at point-blank range in a carjacking. I suffered severe injuries because of my gunshot wound, leaving me hospitalized for months. I was forced to relearn basic motor skills. I was fed through a tube in my throat and was unable to eat or drink water for a month. To this day, I continue to suffer the physical and mental repercussions of my near-fatal wound. Although my experience was traumatizing, I am grateful because it made me a strong individual. This second chance taught me to truly cherish life. I strive to do my best and give my utmost commitment and love in all my public service activities.
If there is one problem in our community that you wish you could fix, what would it be?
I believe that promoting dialogue and respect are key to ensuring the future is prosperous and inclusive. As a community, we are too divisive. If we took the time to develop relationships with one another and communicate many of the disagreements we have on policy or social issues would be resolved. In addition, I believe it is important to be mindful that policy decisions impact real people and that we should be thoughtful of the policy decisions we make.
How do you decompress?
I enjoy to playing soccer, reading, deep sea fishing, and swimming. I also like to practice self-care by creating healthy boundaries from work and spending time with my friends and family.