AURORA SALDIVAR and BRENDA R. RINCON/Coachella Uninc
COACHELLA – Abed Ayoub, representative of the Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), visited Coachella Valley High School last week to have an open conversation with the students whose mascot, the Arab, he believes perpetuates negative stereotypes.
“In meeting with the students, what we’ve seen is a developing understanding of our stance and our point of view, why this is offensive and needs to be changed,” said Ayoub, at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “The students are starting to understand the position.”
He cited the mascot’s large nose, heavy beard and depiction of the Arab as a “caricature” as his top concerns.
The ADC, based in Washington, D.C., began a national debate when Ayoub wrote a letter to Darryl S. Adams, superintendent of Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), on November 1.
During his visit Ayoub got an up close look at the date industry, originating from the Middle East, and a tour of the heavily Latino region that includes a city named Mecca and street names such as Cairo and Baghdad.
Like the students, he developed a better understanding of the history of the school and the deep-rooted connection to the mascot. Although in his letter Ayoub asked Adams to drop the Arab name, he says he no longer wants to see the name changed. However, he is urging the school to consider making changes to the logo – a compromise to which the student body is open.
“I feel a lot of us are more comfortable with the compromise,” said Katarina Vidaña, co-president of the student body. “We get to keep the name, which is what we take pride in. Of course some kids are sad that we have to change the logo, but we are willing to change (it) for the better.”
Vidaña represented the high school’s students at the press conference along with her fellow student body co-president, Chrystabelle Ramirez.
While Vidaña and Ramirez stated that students are willing to making adjustments to the logo, many alumni are not open to changing it in any way.
Dave Hinkle, class of 1961, is a member of a Facebook group called “Save the Coachella Valley Arab Mascot,” which has garnered nearly 3,000 members. According to Hinkle, members of that page are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the current logo, drawn in 1957, intact.
“Number one because we are old,” said Hinkle, when asked why the alumni are so resistant to change. “We are older than the current students, we have more experience and (are) sometimes wiser.”
He added, “People just don’t feel that someone should come in and decide that a logo that’s been here for 50 years, (that there) is something wrong with it, and threaten lawsuits apparently, or supposedly to get us to change it. I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think other people think that’s fair.”
Richard Ramirez, a 1959 graduate of CVHS and former longtime faculty member, is in a unique position to see both the alumni and student points of view.
“You must remember that alumni are old. All of us are old because we graduated from CV 10 years ago, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. We are kind of set in our certain habits, we are creatures of habit. We’ve been Arabs this way for such a long time and we don’t want to change,” he said.
“However, when you look at the big picture, what if someone was being offensive to the Mexican American heritage. Would we be mad? Yes, I think so, and we would want those caricatures changed. I see this process as something that isn’t harmful to this Arab culture and history.”
A New Generation of “Arabs”
“I think the younger generation lives in a new America. There is more understanding, a better understanding of other ethnicities and races,” said Ayoub.
Ayoub said the people he has met while in the Coachella Valley made him believe there is an opportunity for ongoing dialogue with the high school so that students can be a part of “a greater celebration of Arab heritage, what it means to be Arab.”
He added, “Any time you introduce cultural programs and foster understanding between two communities, it’s a positive and that’s the direction we are going.”
The voice of the youth will play an important role in the discussion, with the unique opportunity to shape the experience of their peers and future generations of Arabs.
Vidaña says it is her responsibility to voice the opinions of her classmates.
“We want their voice to be heard because, eventually, they will be alumni and their kids are going to be here,” she said.
CVUSD is acting quickly by appointing a committee — made up of a student, a parent, an alumnus, and a member of the administration — to recommend possible changes to the logo before the upcoming winter break.
There has been no mention of how the district would pay for the changes or implement any cultural programs. The ADC has already indicated they are not able to provide financial assistance.