JoCasta Zamarripa '94

WI representative champions service and diversity

JoCasta Zamarripa

By: Lisa Kohlndorfer

Published April 2016

The current representative for Wisconsin’s 8th District, JoCasta Zamarripa, ’94, has always felt a strong responsibility to serve her community while celebrating its diversity. After winning her first election as a homeroom representative at St. Joan Antida High School, Zamarripa has since greatly expanded her electoral base. The first in her family to attend college and the first Latina elected to the Wisconsin legislature, Zamarripa remains grounded in service while she advances in her career.

Born and raised on Milwaukee’s Southside, in the same district she now represents, Zamarripa’s family history reminds her of the city’s diversity. Zamarripa’s grandmother was an immigrant farm worker from Eagle Pass, Texas, who moved her family to Wisconsin to give her children better opportunities.

“I always like to give credit to my grandmother for what she did for our family,” Zamarripa said proudly. “She was so brave.”

When it came time to choose a high school, Zamarripa valued her Catholic education and decided to follow her cousin Maricela (Hernandez) Herrera, ’94, to SJA. Tuition was a challenge, but through SJA’s work-study scholarship program Zamarripa was able to afford attendance.

“I really loved the small, private Catholic school feel,” she said. “That’s what appealed to me about SJA—we had small classes and were tight-knit. It was like family.”

One of Zamarripa’s favorite classes at SJA was English. Her teacher, Ms. Anne Guzzonato, encouraged her to take an advanced English course. School leadership was able to secure donations to help defray the extra fee for Zamarripa to earn college credit.

“That class was such a great opportunity for me,” she said. “Ms. Guzzonato thought I was a great writer and she really believed in me. She pushed me to be a better student.”

Much like the school’s current International Baccalaureate World programme, the advanced course helped Zamarripa prepare for the rigors of college after graduation. Yet her time in college was not entirely smooth. Zamarripa remembered how tough it was to complete her degree, after leaving classes to work as a file clerk with Quarles & Brady.

“It was challenging to be the first in the family to go to college,” Zamarripa reflected about those years. “For a while, I was what you’d call a college drop-out. But I felt I had a destiny beyond what I was doing, and that future involved a Bachelor’s degree.”

Taking a few extra years to finish school, Zamarripa graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2005 with a BFA in Film. Film was a way for Zamarripa to highlight the struggles of her surroundings—which she had been witnessing from a young age as a volunteer. Her passion for community service had grown even stronger at SJA, when she started spending time at a home for the elderly.

“We would sit and talk with them, and the people there really appreciated spending time with us,” said Zamarripa. “SJA strengthened my commitment to serve your community however you can.”

Since she had already been advocating for marginalized groups through her volunteer work and film studies, Zamarripa’s career transition into politics evolved as simply another way to serve her community. In 2010, Zamarripa became the first Latina elected to the Wisconsin legislature. Her successful election was a moment of both public and deeply personal pride.

“It was a historic election because we had never elected a Latina to the state legislature,” Zamarripa said, reminiscing on that memorable night. “My aunt had always pushed me. She was a tough cookie, not easily impressed. When I told her I won, I was more proud in that moment than when I was told I won ten minutes prior.”

Zamarripa sees her position in government as a way to not only represent the interests of the 8th district, but to work for people across Wisconsin. Recently, Zamarripa has supported bills that would protect the rights of undocumented persons in the state.

“In the capital, I try not to just argue for better policies for immigrants, but also to acknowledge and support state-wide diversity. The leadership at SJA made sure to celebrate all the diverse faces of the school. We should be embracing diversity at the government level, just like SJA does,” Zamarripa said passionately,

As a servant leader, Zamarripa stands as an example of the possibilities that can arise from a dedication to one’s community.

Representative Zamarripa is looking forward to her run for re-election in 2017. If you would like to follow her most recent actions in the legislature, you can find more information at