The tradition of the Aztec warrior lives on

by Cristal Mejia Arrechea

Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor
Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor

Recent graduate Mike Lopez, the current Aztec Warrior, has donned the uniform and blown the conch shell for three years, but he is now prepared to pass his shield on to the next Aztec Warrior.

Student interested in tryouts has increased greatly this year. A total of 19 candidates applied for the position, but in years past, that number has been closer to three.

Applicants sent a letter of interest to the committee expressing their attitude and enthusiasm toward the position.

“We really need somebody who has a very natural enthusiasm and natural school spirit, but it is a little deeper than that,” San Diego State Alumni Association Executive Director Jim Herrick said. “We prefer somebody who has real appreciation for the Aztec culture and a willingness to learn about it and to be able to talk about it and has respect for it.”

Some of the qualities and characteristics the committee was looking for were a loud voice, charismatic nature, athleticism and a proud countenance.

The committee consists of students, alumni and community members. The panel conducted interviews with the candidates before they were given the opportunity to perform as if they were at a game. Performances ranged from chants and cheers, interacting with the crowd and singing the SDSU Fight Song.

“It would be great to lead what they call ‘The Show’ and to lead the chants, the students and the team to victory,” candidate television, film and new media production junior, Austin Oducayen said. “It would be such a great thrill and a great memory to be the Aztec Warrior.”

The decision of which student was chosen for the position is ultimately determined by the university. However, “the committee’s input is really important,” Herrick said.

The Aztec Warrior, which is a paid position, makes appearances at football and basketball games, but his role has recently expanded. He also attends booster events, banquets, send-offs and rallies. Because there has been a lot of community interest in public appearances, the Aztec Warrior is becoming much more visible throughout the community.

“Last year, the mascot went to some baseball games when Stephen Strasburg was pitching because it was just a big happening,” Herrick said. “We want the person to be able to represent the school, to be an ambassador for the university, and to be kind of a celebrity who can go out into the community in a variety of ways.”

Summer break will serve as a period of self-study for the person who is selected to learn about Aztec Culture. In addition, Lopez and alumni staff will also help the selected candidate understand the rules of comportment he will be required to follow.

Throughout the years, the mascot has become an iconic element of the university. What many students may not know is that the Aztec Warrior is still fairly new to the university. He emerged in 2004 after a long period of controversy surrounding the former mascot, Monty Montezuma.

In 2000, a student named Ray Soto representing the Native American Student Alliance presented a petition to Associated Students that claimed Monty Montezuma was disrespectful toward Native American culture. As a result, NASA called for the rejection of Monty Montezuma.

The petition started a national movement that made a great deal of progress and raised awareness for the plight of Native Americans who were offended by the portrayal of such mascots.

SDSU President Stephen L. Weber was instrumental in deciding the fate of Monty Montezuma. He convened a task force of students, alumni and faculty which reached several conclusions regarding how the student’s concerns would be addressed.

“President Weber took it very seriously and immersed himself in the subject,” Herrick said. “He did an unbelievable amount of research and wrote a paper of about 70 pages on it.”

First, the task force concluded that it was appropriate for SDSU to have a human mascot and that the human mascot could be a representative of Aztec culture. However, they also concluded that some of the behaviors, deportment and attire were inappropriate and needed to be changed.

“The comical behavior of Monty was indeed a travesty considering what he was supposed to represent,” religious studies professor Khaleel Mohammed said.

As a result, the task force decided to do away with Monty Montezuma.

After Monty Montezuma was done away with, the university was left without a mascot. However, a supplementary, more historically accurate character, Ambassador Montezuma, was later introduced. Unlike Monty, Ambassador Montezuma was not meant to be the mascot. Instead, he sat regally and quietly watched the games. However, because of his unpopularity, Ambassador Montezuma ultimately faded away.

Eventually, the community and the Aztec Warrior Foundation reinvented a character within the parameters that Weber and the task force deemed appropriate.

“When we got around to the mascot again, it was like, ‘all right, the mascot will be an Aztec Warrior, he is not King Montezuma, he is not Ambassador Montezuma, he is a warrior,’” Herrick said.

With a new mascot came new heavily researched garb. An emphasis was then placed on achieving historical accuracy and experts on Aztec history helped determine which aspects of the uniform would be changed.

The Aztec Warrior’s atire was researched from a historically accurate perspective by an expert who took into account what sort of materials were and were not used during that period in history.

“Even though they did not use Velcro back then, we decided that we have to use Velcro in a few places because we have to be somewhat functional,” Herrick said. “We are not going to use feathers of an endangered species that was used when they were not endangered, so we had some practical compromises, but it was down to a lot of detail.”

In terms of behavior, much of the behavior displayed by Monty Montezuma had to be changed, such as running down the sidelines with a flaming spear.

“The Aztec Warrior is not supposed to be a clown,” Herrick said. “The challenge is that mascots for university teams occasionally act as clowns — that is part of being a mascot. They are frivolous and fun-loving and are usually wearing a big stuffed head, so it is limiting because King Montezuma was not a clown, he ruled an empire of millions. Mike Lopez, our current Aztec Warrior, does not behave like a clown.”

A new supplementary character, Zuma the Jaguar, was introduced this year by the Athletics Department in order to fulfill that fun-loving role. However, Zuma is not a mascot. Many fans are hesitant to embrace Zuma as a supplementary character because they think it is a threat to the Aztec Warrior as a mascot.

On the other hand, some people feel that an animal as a mascot is a step in the right direction.

“The combination is perfectly compatible,” Herrick said. “You have the Aztec Warrior, he’s the mascot, he’s in charge of getting the crowd fired up, and you have a big fluffy Zuma who pats kids on the head and clowns around occasionally.”