It’s been exactly a 100 years to the day since Anaheim High Students first decided their mascot name — the Colonists.
Now, a century later, Anaheim High School students will vote to either keep the controversial mascot, get rid of it — or keep the name, but change the imagery behind it following growing community calls to replace “the colonists” mascot and the symbols associated with it, according to the school website.
The vote is also taking place amid Native American Heritage Month and pushback from community members and some of Orange County’s indigenous residents who say the mascot is a racist symbol.
But others say the mascot and name is a nod to the German settlers in Anaheim, noting a distinction between them and the pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock.
Yesterday, a small group including indigenous people marched outside Anaheim High School at 3:30 p.m. to rally against the mascot.
“We wanted to get the mascot name taken off and change name because it’s pretty offensive to the indigenous community,” said Diamond Reyes, 20, who attended the protest with her mother.
“Some kids in the school don’t agree with it and it just bothers me as a native — that’s not okay.”
The group started off with chants behind the school before marching around the outside of the campus and talking to students.
Some students engaged with the marchers asking them questions and voicing support for a name and mascot change.
Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda nor district spokesman John Bautista responded to requests for comment, Monday.
It’s not just about a name change.
People 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 6,450 signatures as of Monday morning.
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.
Many 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.”
At the same time, there is another petition trying to get the district to retain the colonist mascot. It has garnered over 3,900 signatures as of Monday morning.
People in support of the mascot argue that the colonists represent the German settlers who started Anaheim — not the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock.
“The name, which was originally ‘Mother Colonists,’ was chosen to represent the ‘Mother Colony’ that was established here in Anaheim in 1857, by the Prussian-German settlers who came here to start a new life,” J’aime Rubio, an author, said in an email Monday.
“To remove the Colonist name from the school because a handful of people just decided one day to make this ridiculous argument against it would be a slap in the face to the men and women who founded Anaheim,” she wrote.
Rubio, who started the petition to keep the name, argues there weren’t people on the land that eventually became Anaheim and the diverse communities who live in the city today are colonists in a way.
But others say Anaheim is built on the ancestral land of the Gabrielino-Tongva people.
“Why not recognize the indigenous people that have been here before the Germans, the Spanish, the Mexicans,” Ivette Xochiyotl, one of the organizers said. “There’s indigenous people with kinship to the land so if they have to recognize anybody it should be them, not the colonists.”
Rubio, who wrote a blog on the origin of the colonist’s name, said allowing students to vote on changing the mascot is wrong.
“It is not anyone’s decision to be made, period. It was chosen 100 years ago, and it should remain out of respect for those who named it so many years ago,” Rubio wrote in an email. “Anaheim High School is the home of the Colonists, and it will always be, whether they remove it on a piece of paper or not.”
Prior to the expected vote, students engaged in “Civic Inquiry Mascot Lessons.”
“As a school, we feel this is a great opportunity for students to partake in a civic engagement project that is relevant to them and unleashes their student voice. This project will include all students on our campus,” reads an email sent out to families at the high school. “The project will include civic inquiry and investigation lessons that will be delivered to all students in the span of 5 days.”
The results of the students’ vote will be shared Wednesday during a livestream broadcast at 10:30 a.m. on the district’s YouTube channel.
This is not the first time the district has faced pushback because of 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.
Back then, teachers at Savanna also developed lessons around civic engagement over the pushback on the mascot, students conducted a survey over the name and a town hall was held to present the results to district officials.
While the students continue to call themselves the rebels — references to the confederacy were removed from school symbols.
The vote on Anaheim High School’s mascot is also taking place less than a month after a video of a Riverside Unified School District Math Teacher Candice Reed became widely circulated
The Riverside district called Reed’s behavior “completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices” and put the teacher on administrative leave.
The ripples of the video have been felt in Orange County.
“It was very triggering,” said Xochiyotl. “It’s traumatizing but I think we’re a new generation of adults that cannot allow this to happen.”
Some plan to continue fighting for the change if the students vote to keep the mascot and the name.
The next school district meeting will be held on Nov. 18 where people are expected to show up and speak out in favor changing 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.
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