Meet Graciela

Allow me to introduce myself...

Graciela’s lived experience of overcoming poverty and navigating systems for her immigrant community, coupled with her decade-long career as a legislative organizer and policy advocate make her uniquely positioned to serve Illinois’ 20th District. Graciela is the eldest daughter of five children to refugees who escaped the Salvadoran Civil War. She was just five years old when she lost her undocumented grandfather to cancer because he lacked health insurance coverage and the means to pay for treatment. This loss motivated her life’s mission to ensure healthcare as a right for all people.

As a first-generation college student, she was granted a leadership merit scholarship by the Posse Foundation and graduated from Grinnell College in 2011. Graciela started her career as a Health Promoter through AmeriCorps assigned to the Illinois Primary Healthcare Association working at a community health center in Humboldt Park. In this role, Graciela piloted outreach strategies helping hard-to-reach communities sign up for Medicaid, worked on Affordable Care Act implementation, and led health literacy programming for patients and the community at large. She founded the Chicago Affordable Care Act Consortium helping enroll thousands of Illinoisians into coverage, and supervised a team of assisters that enrolled and educated community members in Cook County and the seven surrounding collar counties – leading to the enrollment of over 53,000 Illinoisans.

Realizing the opportunity she had to take down the barriers she witnessed in the healthcare system and drive systemic change, Graciela moved into policy and legislation as a Coalition Manager at the Protect Our Care Illinois Coalition, a statewide coalition that helped defend healthcare from cuts during the Trump Administration. There she learned to bridge policy and grassroots organizing partners, drafted and advocated for legislative bills around healthcare transparency, prescription affordability, protection from short-term health insurance plans, and strengthening Medicaid coverage. In further advocacy of uninsured populations across Illinois, Graciela then became Campaign Director for the Healthy Illinois Campaign, where she led a multi-year campaign plan for healthcare expansion. Under Graciela’s leadership, the Healthy Illinois Campaign went on to win first in the nation legislation by expanding Medicaid to all seniors over 55, regardless of their immigration status.

Graciela also served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness where she led the policy agenda, with an emphasis on healthcare, social determinants, and child welfare, and served as the organization’s state legislative lobbyist, fighting to advance foster care reform in the state.

Through all of this work, Graciela has never abandoned her roots as a community organizer. When the pandemic struck, she helped form the Belmont Cragin Mutual Aid and Northwest Mutual Aid hub, where she helped coordinate a network of volunteers delivering food, medicine distribution, and supplies to thousands of families across the city. She also helped establish a three-year contract for a mutual aid hub to stabilize this work. She continues this partnership with mutual aid organizations directly working with asylum seekers in police stations and shelters throughout the city. In her current role as an organizer at the Chicago Teachers Union, she has helped children from police stations into school enrollment and organized members around student, teacher, and school needs to support a newcomer student community.

Graciela’s desire to transform the Senate as a place for grassroots legislative policy led to her serving as Chief of Staff to former 20th District State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas. In this role, she helped lead constituent efforts and support legislation around issues like fair wages, salary transparency, supporting our educational budget, and much more.

Graciela Guzman is rooted in the day-to-day struggle of helping people meet their basic needs, while also knowing how to negotiate and move legislation that has materially improved the lives of working-class Illinoisans. She will be ready to govern on day one, with her community at her side every step of the way.