Thousands of people want Anaheim High School to change their mascot — the Colonists — because they say it’s insensitive to the indigenous people of Orange County and the United States.

A petition to replace the mascot has garnered over 5,100 signatures. 

Many people say they see the mascot as a racist symbol and a reminder of the trauma the Indigenous people of America have endured at the hands of European immigrants.

“This was something — after giving it some time — was actually just very harmful, especially given the demographic of the school,” said Daniel Alatorre De-Lira, an alumnus of the school who started the petition.

“It’s very dated. Especially how we choose our symbols and given colonists history erasing Native Americans and genocide and so forth. Colonization is a cause of a lot of struggles that we still face to this day.”

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The push to change mascots also comes as debates about whether or not to teach ethnic studies are taking place throughout school districts in OC.

[Read: The Push for Ethnic Studies Classes Continues Throughout Orange County School Districts]

The petition started last year following the police killing of George Floyd, around the same time other movements to rename buildings or change mascots considered racist or bear the names of white supremacists popped up around the country including Orange County.

“I never felt like that mascot was a fitting mascot for our community — for us,” District Alumnus Mazatl Tecpatl Tepehyolotzin said in a phone interview, adding Orange County sits on Tongva Land.

“In order for us to heal, or to have a pride or a native identity or identity or high self esteem, you must have a mascot that represents us,” Tepehyolotzin said.

In the 2018-19 school year, around 94% of students at the high school were Latino, according to Ed Data, which partners with the California Department of Education.

Anaheim High School on Aug. 4, 2021. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

At the same time, there is a petition to save the colonists mascot that has garnered over 3,500 signatures.

Supporters of the mascot argue the “colonists” represent not the pilgrims who came to the new world, but the German settlers who started Anaheim and did not take part in the genocide of Native Americans.

“Do not remove our history based on the assumptions and misinformation (and lack of education) of the younger generation today who think it is okay to remove something if it offends them, even if they are completely ignorant of the real history to begin with,” reads the petition started by J’aime Rubio, an author.

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Alatorre De-Lira said a compromise can be made, but believes the image of the mascot has to change.

“The history of Anaheim is also the history of the Native lands,” he said, adding that Native American history is not always taught at schools

“I don’t think that tradition and long stances is going to cut it for me anymore because I just think sometimes traditions need to be broken in order for us to adapt as human beings.”

It’s not the first time the district has grappled with a mascot.

In 2017, officials voted to change Savanna High School’s mascot — “Johnny Rebel” a confederate soldier — after some students called for his removal.

[Read: Anaheim’s Savanna High School to Get New “Rebel” Mascot]

Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda said teachers at Savanna developed lessons around civic engagement over the pushback on the mascot.

He said students conducted a survey and held a town hall meeting over the “Johnny Rebel” mascot and presented the results to district officials. He also said the issue garnered national attention.

“They really learned a lesson in local democracy, they learned a lesson in how to disagree on controversial issues without name calling,” he said. 

Savanna High School on Jun. 22, 2020. Savanna High School’s “Johnny Rebel” mascot was changed after the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees voted in 2017 to come up with a new image and remove references to the Confederacy from school symbols. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

While the students continue to call themselves the rebels — references to the confederacy were removed from school symbols.

Matsuda said that could be a potential solution for “the Colonists.”

“Ultimately, it will be the board’s decision, but it’s probably going to be the same approach this year,” Matsuda said. “We need to honor the students and the local context and local history.”

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Other districts have also faced similar challenges.

One petition called on the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District to rename Tuffree Middle School and has over 570 signatures.

The school is named after Colonel J.K. Tuffree, who according to the petition, served in the secret service for the confederacy and financially supported them. Tuffree later moved to Orange County.

In the same Placentia school district, Esperanza High School’s mascot — the Aztecs — has also faced criticism for being culturally inappropriate.

In Orange Unified School District, there’s a petition circulating to change the Comanche mascot of Canyon High School that has over 3,800 signatures.

Trustees in both school districts have not responde

According to an email from Cathleen Corella, an Assistant Superintendent in the district, a task force over the Comanche mascot will be convened when it is safe to do so.

“We have passionate parents, alumni, and students on both sides of the mascot issue,” reads the email. “In the meantime, we are seeking guidance and support from the Comanche Nation on the topic. We feel it is imperative to be educated on this sensitive topic and not speculate on it based on personal feelings or perspectives.”

The Push For Name Changes in Orange County

Similar petitions like the one started by Alatorre were successful in getting the Fullerton Joint Union High School District to remove the name of “Louis E. Plummer” from an auditorium built in the 1930s.

[Read: Renaming Historic Sites Continues to Ignite Debate in Orange County]

Plummer, a former superintendent for the school district in Fullerton, was a possible member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Fanning Academy of Science and Technology in the Brea Olinda Unified School District was renamed to the Falcon Academy of Science and Technology last year following a petition driven by Vivian Gray, a graduate of Brea Olinda High School.

The school had originally been named after William E. Fanning , a teacher from Brea and a confirmed member of the KKK.

The history of the Ku Klux Klan is prevalent in Orange County, where Klan members once held a stronghold on the Anaheim City Council, according to an article by The Los Angeles Times.

There has also been debate over renaming John Wayne Airport — named after the legendary actor who died in 1979 and resided in Newport Beach. Wayne made racist and homophobic comments in a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine.

The County Board of Supervisors haven’t discussed any potential name change on the airport.

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“These types of petitions,” Matsuda said about the pushback against the colonist mascot. “Gives us a moment to pause and look critically at some of these icons that represent us … What do they convey? What do they say? What do they mean?”

Matsuda said it is also important for students to learn to engage in public discourse without delving into name calling.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a very divisive polarized society and I think that in public education, we have to have the courage to address these things. But we need to do it in ways that are not imposed and where kids can learn to connect the dots on their own,” he added.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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