Activism and Education
During his time at UC Santa Barbara, Ismael “Mayo” de la Rocha ’73 was a student activist leader who played a major role in founding the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. He dedicated his life and career to advancing social equity and racial justice as a beloved teacher and community leader. In 2019, Cástulo de la Rocha ’73 and his wife, Zoila Escobar, created a scholarship in memory of his late cousin Mayo. His legacy will live on in current students through the Ismael “Mayo” de la Rocha Endowed Scholarship within the Department of Chicana/o Studies.
“Mayo, in his own quiet way, played a significant role in and was a true champion for social justice,” said Cástulo. “He devoted his entire life to the movement and I am certain he is smiling upon us and thanking us for establishing this memorial scholarship to continue to inspire and help those he dedicated his life to.”
Mayo, the son of a bracero worker and seamstress, was born in Atascaderos, Mexico, and grew up in East Los Angeles. Given few educational opportunities, he worked hard to catch up with his UC Santa Barbara classmates who were better prepared for the university. With grit and support from the small Chicana/o community on campus, Mayo excelled. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara with his bachelor's and master’s degree in the history of Mexico, the United States, and Latin America.
That experience led him to teach history at Ventura Community College for over 40 years. He also taught at UC Santa Barbara, Cal State University Northridge, Cal State University Channel Islands, and various universities across Latin America, including teaching opportunities in Cuba and Nicaragua. No matter where he taught, he was an encouraging and motivating presence for students and staff alike.
The Ismael “Mayo” de la Rocha Endowed Scholarship takes up this mantle by supporting UC Santa Barbara students with financial need who are pursuing an undergraduate degree in Chicana/o Studies, are Dream Scholars and/or are pursuing studies in the medical humanities. The scholarship’s mission is to award students who are committed to giving back to the Chicana/o community.
In partnership with Cástulo de la Rocha and family, a strong collective of alumni, friends, and supporters have come together to continue Mayo’s mission. The de la Rocha’s inspired around 100 additional gifts to the Ismael “Mayo” de la Rocha Endowed Scholarship. Out of these scholarship donors, 69% are Chicanx/Latinx and 28% are fellow alumni.
On campus and beyond, Mayo was a passionate advocate for the Chicana/o community. He played a significant role in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, taking part in the Chicano Moratorium, organizing with the United Farm Workers, and helping to establish Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) at UC Santa Barbara, for which he also served as a faculty advisor at Ventura Community College for over 40 years.
“From the first time I heard Cástulo de la Rocha speak about the mobilization that he led, along with his cousin Mayo, I knew we had to go “all in” to affirm and to learn from his vision,” said Charlie Hale, SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences. “The Mayo de la Rocha Scholarship will play a crucial and ever-expanding role in enabling UC Santa Barbara to honor the commitments that these activist-scholars brought to the fore 50 years ago: full access and inclusion for Latinx students and education for action toward their communities’ empowerment. We are deeply indebted to the de la Rocha family for their abundant and generous energies toward our shared goals of educational equity.”
UC Santa Barbara is proud and honored to be delivering on its commitment as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, dedicated to the educational success of Chicanx and Latinx students through scholarships such as the Ismael “Mayo” de la Rocha Endowed Scholarship. These scholars will carry forward Mayo’s legacy of activism and continue to give back to their communities at UC Santa Barbara and beyond.