Fashion, community, and academics: First-gen student Izzy Zazueta’s path to graduation

Izzy Zazueta will graduate from UCSC with a B.A. in June and is set to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Izzy Zazueta (John R. Lewis ’24, politics).

Photos taken by Jayden Sammuels ’26.

Zazueta is proud to be a first-generation student, the child of a Mexican immigrant, and graduating college at 20 years old with distinction.

Izzy Zazueta (John R. Lewis ’24, politics) will be the first in their family to graduate from college this spring. A third year, dean’s honors, and first-generation student, Zazueta will leave UC Santa Cruz with extensive research experience, involvement with nearly a dozen organizations, and acceptances into the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Sociology Ph.D. program and the University of New Mexico’s Sociology Ph.D. program. 

Growing up in Pasadena, Zazueta chose to attend UCSC to experience the serenity of the redwoods and the ocean; what they call the ‘best of both worlds.’ They credit UCSC with giving them opportunities to expand outside their comfort zone. 

Through internships with El Centro—UCSC’s Chicanx/Latinx Resource Center—campus research opportunities, faculty mentorships, and programs through the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) initiative and the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP), Zazueta found their community and learned to actively contribute to it. 

“We were taught what community means and the values of community,” Zazueta said. “Beforehand, I didn’t conceptualize the value of finding community spaces and contributing to them, but [at UCSC] I’ve learned to foster that sense of community and build those relationships.” 

With El Centro, Zazueta served as an academic intern in their second year and then as a program coordinator in their final year at UCSC. As a program coordinator, Zazueta organized Fashion as Resistance, a student-led event that allowed students to experiment with gender identity and expression, celebrated intersectional identities, and encouraged its participants to break generational stereotypes surrounding gender. 

“I was excited to bring that type of energy to El Centro and introduce folks to this intersectional celebration of being queer, being brown, and demystifying a lot of stereotypes we grew up with.” 

Zazueta also contributed to the creative vision of El Centro’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. They’re grateful to El Centro Resource Center Director Xiomara Lopez for cultivating an inclusive and supportive environment, and to have had the opportunity to branch outside of El Centro and collaborate with other campus resource centers like the African American Resource Center and the Cantu Queer Center. 

Zazueta is a member of multiple organizations and programs at UCSC including the Cruz Control dance team; the Politics Department’s College Scholars Program; EOP’s Pathways to Research Program; is a campus tour guide, and more. 

On top of all that, Zazueta also worked as a research assistant for UCSC Ph.D. student Michelle Gomez Parra in the Sociology Department. Zazueta says they are heavily inspired by Parra who helped them apply for graduate school and find opportunities to present their research at conferences. 

Zazueta’s research focuses on fashion and aesthetics for Chicanx and Mexican women, specifically Mestizaje identifying women. Mestizaje refers to people of mixed European (usually Spanish or Portuguese) and Indigenous American ancestry. Over the summer of 2023, Zazueta studied abroad in Mexico to conduct their research. They collected fashion magazines from family-owned secondhand bookstores dating back to 1948 and frequented highly populated areas to observe fashion trends.

“I found that there's a lot of women wearing Indigenous tops and blouses with embroidery, but they wear it with jeans and Nikes,” Zazueta said. “So it’s very interesting to see this Eurocentric fashion being blended in with this Mexican indigeneity and this Mestizaje identity being performed in fashion.” 

Zazueta is proud to be a Disability Resource Center student, the child of a Mexican immigrant, and graduating college at 20 years old with distinction under College Nine. They are excited to move across the country and pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

“I've known California all my life, so I’m excited to be somewhere where nobody really knows me, break out of my shell, and continue exploring my research to a greater extent,” Zazueta said. “I'm excited to be somewhere new and explore new things.”

After earning their Ph.D., Zazueta hopes to become a professor and eventually pursue an MFA in cosmetology with a focus on hair and makeup.