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Arab mascot: Coachella school district to keep name, discuss options

The latest developments in the debate over Coachella Valley High School’s mascot, the Arab, will be announced Tuesday at a news conference with the district and a civil-rights group.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee recently urged the district to eliminate the mascot — a man with a large nose and heavy beard wearing a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab head covering — saying the school is perpetuating demeaning stereotypes.

After a special board meeting, the Coachella Valley School District announced the school will keep the “Arab” name, but will discuss revisions to the mascot with the group, the Desert Sun reported.

“(Changing) the name ‘Arab’ is no longer on the table. It is a name we will keep,” district Supt. Darryl Adams announced at the board meeting.

The mascot came to the anti-discrimination group's attention after a community member raised concerns, and it decided to take action after researching the region’s history and polling community members, said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the committee.

“Any solution needs to rid the stereotype,” Ayoub said.

The group has responded to stereotyping in films and media in the past, but this is the first time an issue with a mascot has come up, he said.

Other area mascots include the Alhambra High School “Moors,” the Hollywood High “Sheiks,” and the Indio High School “Rajahs.” Ayoub said the group is focusing on resolving its issues with the Coachella mascot before deciding how to move forward.

“Officials and residents of Coachella have been very professional and we look forward to a very constructive conversation,” he said.

In a Nov. 12 letter to the Desert Sun, district Supt. Darryl Adams wrote that the mascot, chosen in the 1920s, was “never meant to dishonor or ridicule anyone” and was designed to show respect for Middle Eastern cultures and crops grown in the Coachella Valley. However, he added, it is time to revisit the concept if the mascot is marginalizing a community.

“Times change, people change, and, subsequently, even symbols and words embraced for decades may need to be considered for change as well,” Adams wrote.

The mascot was adopted to recognize the importance of the date industry in the area, and "fit in perfectly with the neighboring towns of Mecca, Oasis, Arabia and Thermal," according to a description from the school's alumni association.

The Arab was originally drawn riding a horse with a lance and a turban, and has evolved throughout the years, according to the association.

The civil rights group said it understands the context in which the mascot was chosen, but those reasons are not justifiable in the 21st century. The Washington Redskins, for example, were named during a time when there was no racial tolerance, Ayoub said.

"We've moved forward in this country, we no longer live in those times and there needs to be an understanding of those minority groups," he said. "Respecting the heritage and paying homage to the heritage could be done in a way that is not offensive."

In Northern California, the Vallejo City Unified School district is recommending its main high school change its mascot, the Apache.

The Apache, adopted decades ago, has long been a sensitive issue for Vallejo High School, and altering it has been raised several times over the years, according to the Vallejo Times Herald. 

The mascot is offensive to some Native Americans, according to a staff report prepared for the Vallejo City Unified School District’s governing board. The report does not suggest a replacement mascot.

The matter will be decided at the board’s Wednesday meeting. 

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Twitter: @Sam_Schaefer

Samantha.Schaefer@latimes.com

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