SAN DIEGO, Calif. – San Diego State University’s Native American Student Alliance wants to ditch the Aztec Warrior mascot in favor of something more culturally sensitive.
“We owe it to indigenous people to get rid of the mascot and the moniker,” Marissa Mendoza, a Native American student who authored a resolution to do away with the Aztec name, told Fox 5.
Mendoza’s resolution is currently under consideration by the Associated Students Council, which is set to vote on the proposal today.
Council vice president Dan Montoya told KGTV the vote, which serves as a recommendation to college officials, is important because some folks on campus believe “the Aztec brand has been shaped by ‘white supremacy, racism, bigotry and ignorance.’”
Ozzie Monge, a lecturer in SDSU’s American Indian Studies Department, is helping to lead the charge by promoting his research on the Aztec mascot’s allegedly racist origins in the early 1900s, KPBS reports.
“This really is a relic from a time when the country was so openly racist,” Monge said, “when white supremacy was treated as a fact.”
Monge points out that SDSU sanctioned the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on campus over a cowboys and Indians themed party in 2009, and said the school’s mascot sends mixed signals.
“The university punished a fraternity for having a party where students were dressed like Indians, while the university maintains a mascot that is a student dressed like an Indian?” he said.
Of course, the new effort to shelve the Aztec Warrior isn’t the first. The school’s Queer People of Color Collective mounted a failed bid to challenge the mascot in 2014. Before that, the student government voted to get rid of the mascot in 2000, only to be overturned by a student and alumni vote to block the move, KPBS reports.
Carlos Gutierrez, who wore the Aztec mascot uniform in the 1990s, said the current design comes from careful consultation with an expert in Mexico. The bare chested warrior, decked out in a feathered helmet, conch shell and ancient symbols for learning, project virtues students value, like strength and valor, he said.
“People here in San Diego are very grateful to have the name the Aztec,” he told KPBS. “It’s been here for so long and is representative of strength. That’s what I believe it represents. If you aska lot of people, I think they would say the same thing.”
Rania Alsawad told Fox 5 essentially the same thing.
“We don’t want the name to be removed,” Alsawad said. “We’re proud. It’s nice to be called Aztecs.”
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Lozada-Santone also defended the mascot during a meeting with the Student Diversity Council on Monday, when she said Aztec descendants she knows personally are opposed to changing the name.
“They would be very crushed and devastated to know they’ve been wiped out of the multitude of thousands and thousands of generations of a place of higher learning, a place that would never speak again about the Aztec nation,” she said, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In a letter to alumni, Assistant Vice President of SDSU Alumni laid out the situation and promised that “all stakeholders in the SDSU community – including alumni – will be consulted before any final course of action is taken.”
Supporters of the resolution “accuse the institution and those who celebrate and observe the Aztec identity of ‘cultural appropriation,’ ‘inherent racism’ and ‘intellectual dishonesty’ and call for, among other things, the immediate retirement of the Aztec Warrior and the phasing out of ‘all symbols, signage and references’ using the term ‘Aztec,’” he wrote.
“A non-binding vote by the Associated Students University Council is scheduled for April 19. If approved, any final decision regarding the resolution will be made by the president of San Diego State University, as was the case during a similar process in 2001.”
UPDATE: Fox 5 reports the SDSU Associated Students Council voted down the measure after a four-hour meeting on Wednesday by a vote of 12-14, with one student abstaining. Mendoza blamed the outcome on a lack of Native American students on the council.
“I’m not trying to make this about race, it’s not about race, but they are not marginalized people and they represent a majority voice, you cannot as a majority tell a minority how they feel and put a price on their oppression, on their racism and a price on their future,” said Mendoza.