Mariana S. Ornelas, a "Greek Chicana," professor, activist, jazz lover and harpist, died on March 6, 2017 after a long illness. Mariana Sculos Ornelas was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, near Boston, on September 18th, 1949, to Greek parents. A lover of politics and an accomplished pianist, she read that Willie Velasquez was teaching at Harvard while she was in graduate school, and set out to interview him. Her mother cooked a feast in his honor, and the voting rights champion invited the bilingual Mariana soon afterwards to work for the SWVRP, his voting rights organization, in San Antonio. By then, Mariana had already lived in Mexico City and Asuncion, Paraguay, studying the harp from world-class musicians, and she loved the harp as much as the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient loved the accordion. Mariana sealed her ties to San Antonio as a boardmember of the Esperanza Center, as a neighborhood advocate, and later, as a member of the City's Zoning Commission -- "ground zero" of the city's targeted real estate -- where she saved trees, streets, and neighborhoods for District 1. She was a Humanities Professor at Palo Alto College for 20 years, and was central to the development of the Mexican-American Studies program there as well.
Mariana Ornelas was an only child, and had no children. But she leaves a city that will be forever listening to the strains of the "Che Guevara" song on her harp, and a more humane city because of her substantial efforts. She leaves two cats, "Midnight," and "Smoky" who will miss her, and legions of friends who she blessed with her advocacy, grace, compassion, and multi-culturalism. Survivors include her beloved cousin, Dianne Rockas-Leary, nieces Marina and Stephanie Leary, brother-in-law Bill Leary, many loving cousins in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. Also, her Uncle Constantine Rockas of Fairfax Station, Virginia, and Aunt Dorothea Fotis of Alexandria, Virginia. Her mother, Thalia G. Sculos of Woburn, MA, aunt and godmother, Thelma G. Rockas of Winchester, Massachusetts are pre-deceased.