The fate of the Anaheim High School’s 100 year old mascot — the Colonists — could be decided this month amid a debate on whether the image should stay after local indigienous people have called it out as offensive.
The board’s expected decision comes after the district gave the high school’s students a chance to vote last month on whether they wanted to keep the mascot and the name, get rid of both or keep the name and change the mascot.
At the Nov. 9th-vote, 41% of the students elected to keep the colonists mascot and name; 34% voted to keep the name but rebrand the imagery behind the mascot; and 25% wanted a completely different mascot and name.
“It’s going to be at the December meeting,” said District spokesman John Bautista during a Wednesday phone call. “That’s when they’re (board members) going to vote.”
Bautista, however, also said the December board meeting will be a busy one and a vote on the issue may be moved to a later board meeting but for now it is set for the 14th.
“Our leadership has gone back and forth about whether to save it for that day or not. But I believe that the last decision was (Dec.)14,” he said.
Following last month’s vote a group of students and community members came to the district’s board meeting on Nov. 18 to speak out against the mascot — the students noted that while 41% wanted to keep the mascot and name, a majority — 59% — wanted some kind of change.
“I voted to replace the mascot completely because I did not feel prideful of the name colonists and did not choose to rebrand it because I felt like you couldn’t really rebrand the imagery of that word,” said Alisha Zazueta, a high school student at the November meeting.
Zazueta was interrupted a couple of times during her comments by school board members who urged the students to keep their comments to 90 seconds.
Janet Rodriguez, another student who spoke during the meeting, wrote an article in the school’s student newspaper criticizing trustees for how they treated the students who came to speak.
“How some members of the Board treated a young group of passionate students of the AUHSD school district speaks to how disconnected some of them are from their students. It speaks to how much they care about student voices,” she wrote. “Isn’t this their job to listen to the students?”
Bautista said that board members and District Superintendent Michael Matsuda have reached out to the students to discuss what happened to the board meeting. Rodriguez wrote that two Trustees, Annemarie Randle-Trejo and Al Jabbar, have apologized.
“The entire board felt bad about the way students were treated. I think the board meeting was already running late and they wanted to move it along,” Matsuda said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“As I told students, we’re all learning together, and certainly, we’re learning from you guys, too.”
Last month’s student vote happened during Native American Heritage month and 100 years to the day since Anaheim High School students first decided their mascot name based on the German settlers who started the city.
It came after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will mandate ethnic studies courses starting with the graduating class of 2029-30 amid a national debate on how history is being taught and calls for incorporating more stories of people of color in history lessons.
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.
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 students sending their opinions to the school board through letters.
Matsuda, the superintendent, said students learn not only how to connect the dots on these issues, but also how to have civil discourse on the issue.
“That is the biggest takeaway. When people say democracy is under threat, there’s so much hatred out there — Our kids are learning how to disagree and respect each other still,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Matsuda said it’s a skill adults can learn from the students.
“Society wants things to be black and white, and right and wrong and that’s not what reality is about — certainly. Human beings are very complex and decisions made whether it’s now or 200 years ago or 100 years ago, they’re decisions based on people’s own perceptions of what’s the right thing to do, given what they knew, at that time,” Matsuda said.
The District took a similar approach to addressing pushback against Savanna High School Mascot the rebels in 2017.
About a year ago, a petition calling for a change to the mascot started to circulate online and has since garnered nearly 7,300 signatures as of Friday.
There was also a counter petition launched by J’aime Rubio, a historical researcher, calling to save the colonist name that has garnered almost 4,000 signatures as of Friday.
Rubio argues there is nothing controversial about the Colonist name 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.
Rubio previously said that in her opinion, the mascot represents the more stereotypical colonist rather than German settlers because of the anti-German sentiment after World War I when the mascot was chosen.
She also said the Anaheim colonists were not guilty of the atrocities committed by the pilgrims and that the land the Germans settled was uninhabited before them and dry until the colonists made it livable and brought flowing water.
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, wrote to the school board urging them to remove the mascot and the name.
“There is a historical disconnect between the ‘Colonists’ as depicted by the Anaheim H.S. mascot and much later German ‘Colonists’ in Anaheim,” she wrote. “‘Colonists’ worldwide, took indigenous land as their own under violent, dehumanizing, and unscrupulous methods, raids and warfare which is the reason the word should not represent high school students.”
Carmelo also said in her letter 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.
“For Native Americans, the term “Colonists” is a reminder of the cruel and disastrous treatment of our ancestors,” she wrote.
Matsuda said in light of the mascot debate there’s a commitment from the district and the school about understanding local indigenous history predating the German settlers.
“That is definitely something that we’ve all learned from in terms of how to best contextualize this issue,” he said.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
And since you’ve made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.