JoCasta Zamarripa Is the First Latina to Serve
in Wisconsin’s Legislature
A Latina First
JoCasta Zamarripa worked with Planned Parenthood of
Wisconsin before successfully running for the Wisconsin
Assembly in 2010.
She actually ran for office, for alderman, when I was very, very young. I always credit her with getting me involved with politics even
though I didn’t really get bit by that bug until I was in my twenties and I realized how low the voter turnout was in my district. I also
came to the realization of the low voter turnout in my Latino community. I always said that was a catalyst for my entering the world of
Zamarripa entered the fray in 2007 when she ran for a Milwaukee aldermanic seat and lost.
“I believe that was because I had a greater destiny,” Zamarripa said with a smile about her loss. “We did have some great news
recently that the aldermanic seat that I ran for in spring 2008, we did successfully unseat him this time around, this past April 3rd.
José Perez, a great colleague of mine ran for that same seat and we unseated a long-time incumbent who wasn’t responsive to the
community. I keep telling him that I started it in 2007-2008 and he finished it now. That was a great victory for our community.”
When the Republican-controlled legislature submitted its redistricting plan, Zamarripa’s district was restructured as to dilute the
Latino vote in Milwaukee. A suit was filed in federal court and a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the plaintiffs’ plan that preserved
the Latino voting strength in Zamarripa’s district. If the Republican’s had their way, it would have been more difficult to have a Latino
voice in the Wisconsin legislature. Currently, Zamarripa’s voice is the only one.
“It’s certainly imperative to have a diversity of opinion,” Zamarripa emphasized. “Right now, there is no other Latino in the Wisconsin
state legislature. We’ve never had one over in the senate. If I were not here, I don’t know what would have happened to the Arizona
copycat bill. I think that perhaps even if Pedro would have stepped down as he did and become a judge and we wouldn’t have gotten
a Latino in this seat, perhaps an Arizona copycat bill would have certainly passed and become law in Wisconsin. That would have
been just a tragedy for our state. That’s not to say there aren’t allies to the Latino community in the legislature. But I can tell you, first
hand, that immigration, no one wants to touch it with a 10 foot pole. Even the president gets criticized because they feel he should
have done more around it. I certainly recognize and appreciate the diversity that I bring.”
Zamarripa brings more diversity to the table then her Latina heritage. Her district is home to generations of immigrants and their
“I’m lucky to come from a very diverse district: Latino, Hmong and LGBT in my Walkers Point neighborhood and beyond that I feel very
proud and lucky to represent,” Zamarripa said. “I still have my Polish neighbors and constituents that have been there since they
were children. I’m lucky to represent such a diverse district. But it is also home to the largest Latino community in the state of
And while she has a heavy representation of Latinos in her district, it is still difficult at times to address immigration issues.
“I can definitely speak to the issue like no other legislator can,” Zamarripa observed. “I can speak to it because I live in a community
that has been an immigrant community for generations. It used to be Polish. It used to be German. It continues to be immigrant, but
now it is predominantly Latino. So that is something that I can speak to very easily. Also, I don’t want to say culturally, because it is
tough because this summer when I am knocking on doors asking folks to reelect me, I know that I am going to get an earful from
some people because there is a strong anti-immigrant sentiment that has been trying to grow across our country. But I have a
responsibility to advocate for these immigrant communities whether they are Latino or still Polish, Russian, Hmong, it is my
responsibility and no one else wants to touch it right now because it is such a tough issue.”
In many ways, due to both houses of the legislature and the governorship being in Republican control, Zamarripa has had to play a lot
of defense during her first two years in the legislature. One major battle was preventing the passage of what Zamarripa calls an
Arizona copycat law, which would allow the police to ask people their citizenship status, a bill with provisions that were recently
struck down in federal court.
“I think all of the issues that working families are facing across the board in Wisconsin are certainly issues of great concern to my
Latino population,” Zamarripa said. “But of course, in looking at my immigrant communities and constituents, there is no denying the
fact that we have got to make sure that an Arizona copycat bill never sees the light of day. And we celebrated a great victory when
this session closed with that bill not even getting a public hearing in committee. And that is a victory for our immigrant communities.”
And what was interesting about the fight against the Arizona copycat bill is that it created some interesting alliances for Zamarripa that
did not fall neatly along partisan Republican and Democratic lines.
Next issue: Issues for the upcoming election
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
Her excellent memory must come from her community organizing days
at the South Side Organizing Committee and Planned Parenthood of
Wisconsin. When asked about a home in her south side Milwaukee
district, State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa, the first Latina to
serve in the Wisconsin legislature, could remember the garden and the
individuals she met there. Quite impressive.
While she was exposed to politics at a young age, Zamarripa is a
relative newcomer to the political scene.
“I have an aunt who is a community activist,” Zamarripa said during an
interview in her fourth floor office in the State Capitol. “She dragged me
along when I was very young to community meetings and to volunteer.