Anaheim High School students will continue to bear the Colonist name amid uproar from some community members and students who say the name and mascot is offensive to local indigneous residents.
But the mascot imagery of a pilgrim carrying muskets will be changed following a 4-1 vote Tuesday night by the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees with Trustee Katherine Smith dissenting.
“The image has a musket or guns, which I think is not appropriate and I don’t think the image really reflects even the German immigrants who established themselves in Anaheim,” said newly selected Anaheim Union High School District board President Al Jabbar at the meeting.
The mascot change is expected to cost the district $40,000-60,000, according to Jabbar.
As part of the vote, a student task force will be created to decide the new image for the Colonist mascot as well as a vow that the district will teach students Indigneous history and a deeper dive in the city’s own history.
Trustee Annemarie Randle-Trejo said she would have not supported the vote if it hadn’t been for the commitment to teach students Indigneous history and the task force.
“I understand fully that when you take away the colonists, and you separate it from the high school, the name is ugly, and it’s oppressive, and it’s a hurtful name,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting, also stating that most students seemed to support a change of the mascot image.
Randle-Trejo was interrupted as she spoke and following the vote, some people shouted at the board with one man saying “We’re taking your seats” and another saying “we’ll be back.”
Anaheim High School also made a commitment to set up a committee of teachers to develop lessons on the history of the Indigenous people of Anaheim.
“We will aim to embed this into our curriculum in the coming months. We’re inspired by our students’ desire to take this deep dive, which will help our students better navigate the present and grapple with the dynamic, complex and nuanced society we live in,” said Anaheim High School Assistant Principal Ruben Calleros.
The board’s decision comes after the district gave high school students a chance to vote on Nov. 9 on whether they wanted to keep the mascot and the name, get rid of both or keep the name and change the imagery behind the mascot.
Of the 2,388 students who voted, 41% chose to keep both the name and mascot, while 34% voted to keep the name but rebrand the mascot and 25% wanted to get rid of both the mascot and the name.
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, civil discussions and students sending their opinions to the school board through letters.
About 2,500 letters from students were sent to school board trustees regarding their stance on the mascot, as well as almost 40 videos.
“The takeaway for the students is that democracy is sometimes not easy, sometimes it’s messy and the main thing is to learn and grow from each other and respect each other’s differences as you grow into adulthood and citizens of this great country,” said District Superintendent Michael Matsuda at the meeting.
The District took a similar approach to addressing pushback against Savanna High School Mascot the rebels in 2017 and also chose to rebrand the imagery but keep the name.
However, some community members who spoke criticized the civic inquiry lessons plan for not including the history of Indigenous people in Anaheim and Jabbar said he also expressed concern about Native American history not being reflected in the lesson plan.
Others criticized the district’s three options to vote on as opposed to just two choices.
During public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, some people said the mascot represents the rape and genocide of the Indigenous people of the Americas at the hands of colonists in a school that is predominantly made up of students of color.
“We’re still having to forcefully assimilate and adopt ways of life that do not represent us. The Colonists mascot continues to perpetuate violence not only to the people with a direct kinship to the land, but also all Indigenous people in this community,” said Ivette Xochiyotl, who has been pushing back against the mascot.
Some community members and students have also shown up to previous meetings calling on the school board to do away with the 100 year old mascot, which they say is offensive to the local Indigenous people.
The debate over the mascot is taking place amid a national and local reckoning over how history is being taught and calls for greater incorporation of perspectives from people of color in curricula through ethnic studies classes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will mandate ethnic studies courses starting with the graduating class of 2029-30 prior to the board’s decision to rebrand the mascot.
The Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees voted to implement an ethnic studies graduation requirement earlier this year, before Newsom signed the bill.
A petition calling on the district to change the mascot surfaced online last year and has since garnered nearly 7,500 signatures as of Tuesday.
A counter petition started by J’aime Rubio, a historical researcher, has been circulating online calling for the mascot to be saved and has garnered close to 4,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Rubio argues the Colonist name is not controversial and that it should be kept because it represents the German settlers who founded the Mother Colony and started the city of Anaheim.
Anaheim was founded by the 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.
But the image of the mascot represents colonists more commonly associated with the pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock, which Rubio previously Voice of OC is due to anti-German sentiment following World War I when the mascot was chosen.
She has also argued the Anaheim colonists were not guilty of the atrocities committed by the pilgrims and the Germans settled land that was uninhabited before them and dry until the colonists made it livable and brought flowing water.
A couple speakers voiced support for keeping the name and mascot, including Alumnus Thomas Bateman who said he supported teaching Indigenous history.
“The City of Anaheim was founded by those German immigrants who came and the name Colonists was selected by the students to honor that specific memory, not to celebrate genocide, rape, murder, these are absolutely antithesis to everything that we as students grew up with, what our teachers taught us,” he said.
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.
Virginia Carmelo, Anaheim resident and Gabrielino/Tongva descendant and elder, has written to the school board urging them to remove the mascot and the name.
In her letter, she argued that it was local Native Americans and Indigenous agricultural work that brought about the water supply that was needed for the German vineyard to prosper.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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