Empath was the son of an impoverished noble Castillian who could trace their lineage back to the ancient Romans. Hailing from Spain, Manuel de la Rocha was a mutant who attended school at the Massachusetts Academy, where he was one of the original students of then villain, the White Queen. Frost's students, who were known as the Hellions, were rivals of Charles Xavier's students, the New Mutants. De la Rocha was one of the few Hellions, along with James Proudstar, Magma and Firestar to survive an attack by time-traveling villain Trevor Fitzroy (although Empath's former teammate, Tarot would eventually be resurrected).
During his tenure with the Hellions, de la Rocha met and fell in love with the New Mutant known as Magma (Amara Aquilla). Amara Aquilla eventually left her team and became a member of the Hellions, so that she could be close to Manuel de la Rocha, and de la Rocha even accompanied her back to her home in Nova Roma. During the flight there was a bad storm and the plane crashed in a swamp.
Amara and Empath found themselves being drawn closer together during their trek through the wilderness, without Empath even having to use his powers. Amara was wounded while saving Empath from a jaguar. He soon realized that Amara hoped that they would not be found by her father, because of the marriage plans her father had in store for her. Empath, knowing her wound was getting infected, used his powers to upset her so that she caused an earth tremor and raised a small volcano. A few days later, they were found by her father, who had located them due to her earth tremors.
Soon after, while Amara and Empath were still in Nova Roma, Amara was captured by agents of the criminal geneticist High Evolutionary.The agents teleported them to a secret base, planning to remove Amara's powers permanently. The New Mutants teleported to the base before Magneto and the others, hoping to rescue Amara and Empath themselves. They arrived in time to rescue Amara before her powers were taken from her, and they then defeated the High Evolutionary's agents.
Later, Empath joined X-Corporation, where he became the Communications Director for the Corporation's Los Angeles chapter. While there, he had problems with the drug Kick, which could take over a person's mind. After M-Day, all X-Corporation offices were closed down after many attacks. Empath was quickly resigned to help out at the Mansion as he still retained his powers, but was first assigned by Emma Frost to pick up Magma who had lost her mind after losing her boyfriend.
Amara found it difficult living with Empath, often blaming him for various things that happened at the mansion. During one of the many attacks after M-Day, Empath left on his own free will sometime before the rest of the 198.
Some time after that, Empath found himself a mind slave of the Red Queen, taking part in the attack of the X-Men with members of the Hellfire Cult. He was beyond loyal to her and followed her orders blindly. Using his powers, he easily manipulates the X-Men to his whim under Red Queen's orders, but was then taken down by Pixie who stabbed him with his soul sword leaving him blind.
Empath was one of the first prisoners in the new base of the X-Men, still very loyal to the Queen, he even noticed her aura when the Sisterhood attacked the X-Men during the night. Magik noticed that Magma still had feelings for Empath, but liked him better blind as he was helpless this way.
Shorty after Illyana gave Emptah back his sight, he was put in the same virtual reality as the rest of the X-Men's prisoners. This virtual reality was shut down when Selene made her attack on Utopia. During the attack, Empath fought a temporarily resurrected Harry Leland.