Tulare Union High School has used the Redskin name for over 100 years and now if legislation is passed in Sacramento the school will need to find a new name for its mascot or a new mascot all together. The California Racial Mascots Act (AB 30) would force a ban of the name. All points indicate that Governor Jerry Brown will sign the bill into law.
It’s a tough order for a school that is the first high school established in Tulare County and is the second oldest of all high schools in the San Joaquin Valley. Only Fresno High, founded in 1889, is a year older. So naturally the deeply-rooted school and families are resisting the change.
Under the Redskin name the school has built a rich tradition and impressive list of alumni that include Olympic Gold medalists Bob Mathias and Sim Innes, decorated war hero Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, numerous professional athletes and so many others. In fact the school is among the top in the nation producing professional football players. Its academic, vocational and extracurricular programs such as the marching band continue to be an impressive sight.
On the national stage, the NFL’s Washington Redskins are also fighting to keep its name. The organization has been stripped of six trademark registrations because a federal judge ruled that the term “Redskins” is disparaging to Native Americans.
Despite the celebration and honor fans and supporters have traditionally bestowed upon the Redskin mascot in Washington and at Union, the truth is we don’t live in a dome and the term does take a different turn beyond the football stadium or Tulare city limits. In the larger scheme of things it is insulting to a particular group of people and the reason why schools are dropping the name. Another school, this time in Northern Indiana, recently dropped the name and the trend continues.
Most would agree that any term identifying a person or group of people by their skin color is insensitive and disrespectful. More specific to the term Redskin, a study of 400 people by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino, found that 67% of Native Americans felt the term is offensive and racist while 68% of non-natives felt it was not offensive.
The author of AB 30 State Legislator Luis Alejo from Watsonville says, “the R-word was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for bounty, and in today’s society it has become widely recognized as a racial slur.”
I had an experience that Alejo, a Democrat, describes in Washington, DC of all places. When I was walking toward the White House in a suit and tie, three blue collar type men from afar yelled out at me, “Hey Redskin! Redskin!” The shouts were aggressive and unfriendly. Keeping it positive, I preferred to think that it was because I was in the city of the NFL Redskins and continued to walk on.
When I sat down at my desk, I thought about those shouts. It wasn’t football season and those men were not wearing any kind of football regalia. I think if they called me Cowboy, 49er or even Raider I would not have thought much of it or at least not in the same way.
However, being a person of color combined with that particular controversial term and its definition in today’s dictionaries did make me feel the remarks were intended to demean me directly.
Regardless of its current celebrated intent and use of Redskin it does not change how this term came to be and that it’s a term that Native Americans don’t call each other, as pointed in a National Congress of American Indians’ video http://www.changethemascot.org/proud-to-be-video/.
I enjoy being part of and seeing students, parents and alumni celebrating and engaging in their schools’ successes and taking pride in being a “Ranger, Monarch, Aztec” or whatever mascot and name the school has adopted.
Is important it keep in mind that the law does not address the beautiful Native American images on the Tulare campus, but the name. So let’s begin the conversation of what name is best for such a fantastic school and community.
I will start by suggesting the “Great Americans” because of its long time relationship with its Native American image that has represented its school and spirit and for all those who have walked the halls of TUHS who have made their community proud and strong one.
Ruben Macareno is the Chairman of the Tulare County Democratic Party.