JoCasta Zamarripa, the conference's keynote speaker and the first Latina elected to the Wisconsin state Legislature, is surrounded by co-organizers Beda Martinez (left) and Africa Lozano (right) at La Mujer Latina Conference April 21.
Through politics, environmental discussions, art, music, and identity workshops, the 16th annual La Mujer Latina Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union this past weekend was once again an important community resource.
The conference's theme was “Teaching Traditions in a New World” and referred to the ever-changing surroundings Latinas encounter in their daily lives. The conference wanted to work on bridging the many generational gaps and cultural differences that exist within the Latina population. The conference kicked off Friday, April 20, with Noche de Cultura (A Night of Culture) and was followed by a full day of interactive workshops and speakers on Saturday, April 21.
La Mujer Latina is a student organization at the UW-Madison that is dedicated to bringing together Latinas to identify pressing issues affecting the welfare of Latinas in the University and Madison communities. In doing so, La Mujer Latina strives to build relationships and to advocate for positive change for Latinas.
JoCasta Zamarripa was the conference's afternoon keynote speaker and is currently the only Latino in the Wisconsin state Legislature. In 2010, The Milwaukee south side Democrat beat out fellow Democrats Angel Sanchez and Laura Manriquez to win a seat in the state Assembly replacing the retiring Pedro Colón, the first Latino elected to the state Legislature.
“I want to thank La Mujer Latina for inviting me for the second year in a row to address all of these wonderful students and community members,” Zamarripa said. “I consider it an honor to be among so many very educated Latinas.
“Education is imperative for Latinos,” she continued. “Latinos have very low college retention rates.... we don't make it through to graduation in college. It's something that we're working on. It's something that this conference is working towards improving. I'll tell you right now that we're far behind our white counterparts in college retention and we're also behind our African American counterparts. Latinos have the lowest college retention rates in the country and so it's an inspiration to see you all here today.”
Zamarripa, who represents the 8th district in Milwaukee, gave a break down on how the governmental branches work and a background on what she does on a day-to-day basis. She presented a slideshow of her time in office starting with her election night victory in 2010. Her 8th assembly district is home to the largest Latino community in the state. “I'm very proud of that and I fight very hard for my district,” Zamarripa said. “I'm the only Latino legislator in the state of Wisconsin and I consider myself a representative for all of you whether you hail from Racine, Kenosha, or Green Bay. I know that the Latino community is the fastest growing community in the state of Wisconsin and I want you to know that I am here for you.... a sus ordenes.”
In the morning keynote, Dr. Tess Arenas spoke on “Honoring women in higher education: Sounding the trumpets and safeguarding our progress.” Arena focused on critically important developments and political backsliding for women in higher education and she shared stories of success, overcoming challenges, and building alliances to advance the progress of women.
There was a morning workshop on “Latina Experiences in College” with a panel of La Mujer Latina undergraduates and workshops on “Challenges for Latinas in Higher Education,” “Latinas portrayed in Media and Communication,” and “Self-Defense for Latinas.” Other workshops included “Admissions and Financial Aid Info for High School Students,” “Graduate School Information,” and “Latinas in Stem Disciplines.” The afternoon workshops were just as varied tackling topics and issues like education, politics, motherhood, health care, and spiritual healing.
The annual La Mujer Latina Conference gives the opportunity for community members, faculty, staff, and all students, not just University of Wisconsin-Madison students, to come together for open dialogue about Latina culture and certain issues Latinas face. The conference committee works hard throughout the year, holding fundraisers and applying for grants in order to fund the conference’s speakers, free breakfast and lunch, space, and publicity.
“You people and the young people throughout the state are what keep me motivated,” Zamarripa said. “As divisive, tumultuous, and sometimes frightening as this past session was for a freshman senator like myself and as the only Latino legislator... young people are what keep me motivated. They get me up in the morning. And I hope that I inspire you guys to some day run for office and definitely inspire you to vote. If you are a citizen, we have to vote. It's our responsibility to vote.”