For decades at San Diego State, there has been a contentious debate about the cultural appropriateness of our school mascot, the Aztec Warrior. In recent years, there has been upheaval and change after a 300-page report conducted by a 17-person task force was delivered in 2018.
I am not here to say that using the Aztec name is wrong and we should get rid of it, but I am here to say that we are in a way exploiting this culture for our own gain. To rightfully and respectfully call ourselves Aztecs, I believe there must be more education universally on campus to celebrate their rich culture.
As a freshman, as soon as I made the decision to come to SDSU I was concerned with the fact that I, a white person, would be deemed an “Aztec for Life.” It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth thinking I am now able to “identify” with a culture that I know little to nothing about. It feels like I am taking something that wasn’t mine to take.
Former SDSU President Sally Roush rationalized continued use of the name by encouraging recognition and reverence for the Aztecs and their culture as part of our daily life here at SDSU following the task force’s thorough investigation, according to the president’s website.
Although school has only been in session for about nine weeks, I have seen very little implementation or “recognition” and “reverence” of the Aztec identity in my daily life here at SDSU, other than street and building names. And if there have been educational opportunities that I might have missed, the school has not done a good job of advertising them.
Personally, I do not believe slapping an indigenous name on to a dorm building and calling it a day is considered honoring a culture. Especially when that name has become subject to ridicule and disrespect.
In the mere six weeks it has been open, the new freshman dorm building, Huāxyacac, has been christened “Wash ya cock” almost universally on campus. This is because it was deemed “too hard to pronounce” by a majority of students.
Huāxyacac means “place of the guaje”, a pod from the Leucaena leucocephala tree, also known as the Guaje tree. Huāxyacac is a Nahuatl variation that refers to the region of Oaxaca as it was known by the Aztec civilization prior to colonial contact.
This represents a very significant part of the Aztec culture, yet far too many students don’t know any better, or care. And that is the problem: we don’t know any better. Out of the nearly 34,000 students enrolled at SDSU, what percent can say where in the world the Aztecs originated?
Hint: Nowhere near San Diego.
Who knows the true importance and significance of Montezuma (correctly spelled Moctezuma) whom has many spots on campus named after him? How many students know the vast accomplishments of the Aztec people?
For us to rightfully and completely honor the culture that our school is representing, there must be more educational opportunities. This native culture is too valuable and important for thousands of us to not know any better.
The Aztec Identity Task Force decided to keep the Aztec moniker, but did not reach a consensus on the future of the Aztec Warrior. The task force also recommended that SDSU uses a variety of Aztec symbols around campus in order to provide education on the Aztec culture and to support indigenous cultures.
The school has since gotten rid of our “mascot,” The Aztec Warrior, and has renamed it the “Spirit Leader” along with altering the costume to make it more historically accurate and culturally sensitive.
Regardless, whatever you want to call it, the Aztec Warrior is still a mascot by definition, and we continue to use the Aztec culture as a token of our sporting events. Can the majority of the student body actually tell the cultural significance that the Aztec Warrior or spiritual leader is based on? Does the spirit leader significantly add anything to the experience of the game?
If the university is willing to go through the trouble of conducting a months-long project to justify the mascot name, why should it stop there? If the name is really that important to this institution, we need to be doing more to honor and teach about their culture instead of doing the bare minimum.
In 2005, the NCAA cracked down on teams with “hostile or abusive” mascots. SDSU was not cited in this decision. We were given a pass due to the fact the Aztecs are not a Native American tribe and no longer have any descendants, as the civilization was eradicated due to colonization in the 1500s.
Author Jennifer Guiliano, said for NCAA, “It’s really hard for native communities to look past that a lot of this celebration is a celebration of the dying of their ancestors … If these are celebrations, what exactly are they celebrating? It is celebrating extermination and colonization.”
I believe it is wrong to call ourselves the Aztecs without addressing why they no longer exist. And the fact we could keep the Aztec name with no penalty from the NCAA on a technicality until the school decided to get involved 10 years later isn’t something to be proud of.
In addition, one could argue the NCAA’s claim there are no longer any Aztec descendents alive is invalid. Since there is allegedly no descendents of the Aztec people left, don’t we have an obligation to continue their legacy though educating our student body?
I am not suggesting we lose the Aztec name. However, if we are going to keep it we must have some integrity and implement the decisions from the report and actually offer thorough recognition and reverence for the Aztec name and culture.
Peyton Antil is a freshman studying political science and journalism.