Mascot undermines culture

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by Jose Gutierrez, Staff Columnist

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Letting go of racist traditions sure is hard, isn’t it America? This country’s courts had to legally declare racist acts, such as slavery, and racial segregation unconstitutional because its citizens would gladly continue practicing these acts if they weren’t illegal.

While there aren’t any laws to ban the use of cultural Native American figures as mascots, San Diego State doesn’t need to wait until a law is passed. Leadership starts here, after all. It goes without saying that keeping the Aztec Warrior as a mascot perpetuates negative stereotypes of Native Americans. Therefore, SDSU should permanently retire its Aztec mascot.

The SDSU Queer People of Color Collective will soon propose to the Associated Students reasons why we should remove our mascot, according to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies senior Thomas Negron Jr.

Anyone with even an ounce of respect for the Aztec culture should support this proposition.

Our mascot, first chosen in 1925 by individuals who I’m sure were incredibly race-sensitive white men, doesn’t glorify, dignify or respect any values held by the Aztec people. Donned in a feathery warrior costume with a skull headdress along with a conch shell horn, our Aztec warrior depicts the Aztec culture as savage, brutal and dangerous. Is the SDSU mascot even of Aztec descent? If not, then it’s just another case of playing dress up in an Indian costume. This is called cultural appropriation kids, and it’s highly insensitive.

As the American Psychological Association pointed out – yes, the same one whose style is used for writing essays – “The continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities establishes an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images and stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.”

SDSU, let me remind you of the diversity pledge promoted by the school.

“I pledge … to not contribute to stereotypes or make generalizations about individuals but rather to use my own experiences and interactions to better understand and embrace all people.”

By keeping the mascot, the school is inadvertently contributing to the stereotypes of the Aztec people.”

When SDSU students think of Aztecs, what else will they reference but our mascot and his savage portrayal of the Aztec people?

“But wait, Aztecs are extinct so it doesn’t matter!”

No, they’re not extinct. There are currently an estimated 1.5 million Nahuatl (the Aztec language) in Central Mexico alone. These indigenous people are incredibly marginalized and discriminated against in Mexico. But you wouldn’t know by the education, or lack thereof, of Aztec culture on campus.

“The continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities undermines the educational experiences of members of all communities – especially those who have had little or no contact with Indigenous peoples,” as referenced by APA’s resolution for the retirement of American Indians as mascots

To illustrate how we’ve already undermined our education of the Aztec culture, the description for the YouTube video “Adopt an Aztec” claims our Aztec Warrior to be 3,000 years old.

Let me fill you in where the school obviously hasn’t. There weren’t even Nahuatl speakers in what’s now known as Mexico until the sixth century. Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, wasn’t even settled until approximately 1325. I don’t even know where this 3,000-year-old figure came from.

There’s really no justifiable reason to keep the mascot, seeing as it does more harm than good.

To the people who say actual Aztecs should be thankful that SDSU is even promoting their culture, how one columnist did for this paper more than a decade ago, I say nobody should give thanks for being mistreated.

To the people who still can’t see the problem with having an Aztec Warrior as a mascot, it sure is hard seeing properly when you’re racially colorblind isn’t it?

Lastly, to the people who want to hold on to the mascot for tradition, it’s tradition that keeps racism alive and well. Just look at the Dutch dressing in blackface every Christmas, you know, because it’s traditional.

So just as the APA, as well as countless individuals and organizations, has called for the retirement of American Indian mascots by colleges and universities, everyone else should too.

Update: Read about the history of the mascot and the opposing argument.

This article has been changed. It originally stated the mascot was chosen in 1925 when it was actually SDSU’s former mascot, “Monty Montezuma,” that was chosen at that time. The Daily Aztec apologizes for any confusion this may have caused. 

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