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Colonists for now: Anaheim High School students vote to keep name, mascot

Anaheim High School's gymnasium proclaims itself home of the Colonists.
(Gabriel San Román)

A century ago, Anaheim High School students voted to become known as the home of the “Colonists.” A hundred years to the day, the nickname came before another vote amid petitions and protest efforts by some in the community to replace what they see as an “insensitive” moniker given the school’s supermajority Latino student population.

As it turns out, many of those students want to keep the “Colonists” name — and even the mascot, too.

The results of the Nov. 9 vote were revealed during a Wednesday town hall ahead of a scheduled Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting that will address the students’ recommendation next month.

“As a school district, we felt that this was a great opportunity for students to partake in a civic engagement project that is relevant to them and unleashes their student voice,” said Dr. Jared Fried, AUHSD’s assistant superintendent. “Student voice and civic engagement are important key drivers that allow us to prepare our students to become life ready.”

A year ago, an online petition pushed by two Anaheim High School alumni began collecting thousands of signatures calling for the name and mascot change.

“We cannot keep this mascot as it is a constant reminder of the trauma natives endured at the hands of colonizers,” wrote Laura Luevano. “Our ancestors did not experience cultural genocide, assimilation and exploitation for us to embrace this racist symbol.”

Protesters also rallied against the mascot outside of the school site this week before the town hall.

J’amie Rubio, an author and historical journalist, started a competing online petition that gathered a few thousand less signatures calling for the school to keep its nickname and mascot in the “once a colonist, always a colonist” spirit.

“The term ‘Colonist’ has always represented the early settlers who founded the ‘Mother Colony’ of Anaheim,” she argued in the petition.

According to “The German Settlement at Anaheim,” by Jean Paule, immigrant Germans purchased land from Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857 and established a winemaking colony that became Anaheim. By 1884, Mexican, Chinese and Indigenous labor in the vineyards helped transform Anaheim into the largest wine-producing community in California at the time until a crop disease crippled its fortunes.

To this day, the residential “Anaheim Colony” neighborhood near the school is one of four such historic districts in the city and pays homage to the heritage.

“I am very happy that common sense prevailed today,” said Rubio of the vote. “The student body at Anaheim High has proven today that school spirit is alive and well, and that they know the true history behind the Colonist name is not one that is offensive, or racist, as a small group has tried to claim. Instead it is a symbol of the founders of Anaheim who came to the area from a foreign land and literally built something out of nothing.”

The school was established in 1898.

Prior to the vote, Anaheim High School students considered all the issues at hand during a five-day lesson focused on whether to keep, rebrand or replace the nickname and mascot. The project took place during social studies and English courses.

Anaheim High School senior Brianna Gurrola speaks in favor of keeping the Colonists name but changing the mascot
Anaheim High School senior Brianna Gurrola speaks in favor of keeping the Colonists name but changing the mascot during a town hall.
(Screenshot by Gabriel San Roman)

Three students at the town hall spoke on behalf of each position.

“We learned that German immigrants wanted to establish a colony in Southern California to grow grapes,” said Daniel Escobar, an Anaheim High School junior. “Modern-day Anaheim ended up being the place they settled and founded. Because Anaheim was founded as a colony, it’s appropriate to call us Colonists.”

Escobar stated that the blunderbuss-bearing mascot has been misinterpreted as a colonizer responsible for the slaughter of Native Americans.

Brianna Gurrola, an Anaheim High School senior, favored a compromise solution by keeping the name but scrapping the mascot to avoid any such confusion.

“The current Colonist imagery does not look anything like the colonists that settled Anaheim,” said Gurrola. “Instead, the images used throughout our school’s history look like the pilgrims or American colonists that founded the United States. By removing the weapon from our logo and bringing it more in line with our city’s history, we will show the true meaning of a Colonist.”

Favoring all-around changes to her high school’s identity, Anahi Rico spoke last during the student town hall.

“Many may argue that the original Anaheim colonists, after which our school was named, had done nothing wrong, that we were only named the colonists because of the colony that they had peacefully settled, and that the definition of a colonist is a settler in or an inhabitant of a colony,” said Rico, an Anaheim High School junior. “But that definition is no longer valid when you take everything into history into account.”

The student also argued that being a Colonist didn’t convey school spirit and only served as a glorification of genocide.

Anaheim High School students voted in favor of keeping the Colonists name and mascot over other options.
(Screenshot by Gabriel San Roman)

Brandi Hoxworth, Anaheim High School’s ASB president, presented the student vote after all youth speakers addressed the town hall. The school’s 2,400 students had the opportunity to weigh in.

As the results showed, 41% voted to keep the name and mascot. 34% voted to keep the name but rebrand the mascot. Only 25% voted to scrap both the name and mascot.

“We’re upset, obviously, with the result but more than anything with the process itself,” said Ivette Xochiyotl, an activist who protested this week for the name change. “The way that the school approached the situation was completely wrong.”

Xochiyotl claims that the educational material surrounding the vote made no mention of Tongva indigenous people. The group of activists she belongs to plans to speak out at future school board meetings.

Anaheim High School assistant principal Ruben Calleros touted the vote as an exercise in democracy and civility.

“The students at Anaheim High School voiced their opinions through a schoolwide vote and sent individual student letters representing multiple perspectives to the Board of Trustees,” he said to close the town hall. “Ultimately, the Board of Trustees will decide whether or not to take action with these recommendations in mind.”

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