Anaheim High School students voted to keep the name and imagery of their controversial mascot — the Colonists — amid pushback from some residents who argue it’s a racist symbol.
But the decision will ultimately be up to the Anaheim Union High School District’s Board of Trustees who will be presented with the results of the vote in December.
The vote took place during the Native American Heritage Month and at a time when school districts across Orange County are having a reckoning of sorts on how to teach history through the eyes of people of color by incorporating more of their stories in history lessons.
It also comes as school districts wrestle with how to teach ethnic studies, which will be mandated by state officials beginning with the graduating class of 2029-30. The Anaheim Union High School District approved an ethnic studies graduation requirement earlier this year.
“We are committed to continuing to raise awareness every year and ensure that all students of Anaheim High School will explore the history of our school and local community, including the history of indigenous populations that inhabited the land prior to the Mexican American War,” said Ruben Calleros, the school’s assistant principal, at a Wednesday town hall where the results were presented.
Prior to Anaheim High School mascot vote, students engaged in a five day “Civic Inquiry Mascot Lessons” that included an analysis of primary historical documents, image analysis of the mascot, discussions and even students writing to the district board on their stance on the mascot.
“What I, along with our superintendent, Mr. Michael Matsuda, are most proud of is how our students have demonstrated tremendous civility towards one another while engaging within our civic and democratic process,” said Jaron Fried, assistant superintendent for the district at the townhall.
The vote took place on Tuesday Nov. 9 — a 100 years to the day since Anaheim High School students first decided their mascot name based on the German settlers who started the city.
“Because Anaheim was founded as a colony, it is appropriate to call us colonists,” said Daniel Escobar, an Anaheim High junior, at the town hall.“Our mascot name has nothing to do with those that killed Native Americans and stole their land.”
A plurality of students, 41%, voted to keep both the name and the mascot, while 34% voted to keep the name and rebrand the mascot, and 25% voted to nix the name and mascot altogether.
Brianna Gurrola, a senior at the high school, said at the townhall that the school should keep the name, but change the mascot to better represent the city’s history.
“The current colonists imagery does not look anything like the colonists that settled Anaheim. Instead, the images used throughout our school’s history look like the pilgrims, or the American colonists that founded the United States,” she said at the town hall.
Anaheim was founded by German settlers in 1857 after they bought the land from Juan Pacifico Ontiveros so they could grow grapes, according to copies of 1921 historical records online.
The high school’s mascot resembles colonists more commonly associated with the pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock.
J’aime Rubio, a historical researcher, said in an email to the Voice of OC Monday the image was likely a result of anti-German sentiment following World War I when the mascot was chosen.
She started a petition around the same time trying to get the district to retain the colonist mascot. It has garnered over 3,940 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
Rubio says the mascot and name are not racist, but a nod to the German men and women who established the “Mother Colony.”
“It is well documented that the reason the name ‘Colonist’ was chosen wasn’t because of the colonists or pilgrims who came to the New World from Europe,” she said in an email Monday.
“By attaching or associating Anaheim High School’s ‘Colonist’ name with such negative ideas is actually perpetuating a fallacy. The settlers were not guilty of such atrocities.”
Rubio, who wrote a blog on the origin of the colonist’s name, also said that the colony emerged on land that was dry, uncultivated and uninhabited until settlers started bringing in water to irrigate the land.
“I feel that in this day and age, there seems to be certain groups who go around and single out various historical places or even people in order to specifically demonize or find fault in them under this false guise of ‘social justice,’” she wrote in her email.
But others say present day Anaheim is built on the ancestral land of the Gabrielino-Tongva people.
“Prior to colonization, an area of Anaheim along the Santa Ana River was known as Hotuuknga, a village in Tovaangar, a nation which extended throughout the LA Basin and included the entire territory of present-day Anaheim,” states the Anaheim Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee website.
In an email Tuesday, Rubio said the village was closer to Orange than Anaheim.
Other students like Anahi Rico, a junior, see the issue differently than Rubio and believe the name and mascot should be changed.
“When I think of the word colonists … I think of mass genocide, murder, the separation of families, the attempt to whitewash and eradicate Native American civilization, and the attempt to hide the truth about what really happened to those that once inhabited this land,” Rico said at the town hall.
People from Monday’s protest are also calling for Native American and Indigenous Studies to be added in the curriculum as well as diversity, equity and inclusion training for all educators and staff members.
An online petition to replace the mascot has garnered over 6,550 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
“We cannot keep this mascot as it is a constant reminder of the trauma natives endured at the hands of colonizers. Our ancestors did not experience cultural genocide, assimilation, and exploitation for us to embrace this racist symbol,” reads the petition.
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 offensive or racist popped up around the country including in Orange County.
Some students and alumni say the school’s mantra — “Once a Colonist, Always a Colonist” — is tone deaf, especially at a school where a majority of students are people of color.
Some people went to the Anaheim Union High School District board meeting on Oct. 14 to speak out against the Colonists mascot and urge the board to change it.
“It’s very degrading to us Native Americans,” said Anaheim High Alumnus Mazatl Tecpatl Tepehyolotzin at the meeting — who helped organize the protest around the school. “That image, that mascot, it’s a reminder of our trauma and what they did to us, raped our ancestors and so there needs to be corrections on this.”
People are also expected to show up to the district’s board meeting next week to speak out against the mascot and the name.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.