A California high school is under fire from an Arab-American group that says the mascot for the school’s sports teams -- which portrays an Arab with a large nose, beard and traditional head-covering -- is offensive.
According to CNN, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee issued a press release calling on the Coachella Valley High School to change the team name, the “Arabs,” as well as the mascot itself.
"Continued use of the 'Arab' mascot perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans," the press release said. "Coachella Valley High School's gross stereotyping cannot be tolerated."
"It's a very stereotypical logo of Arabs, it has the angry-looking Arab with the hook nose and the beard," said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the group, according to MyDesert.com.
During halftime, a female dressed as a belly dancer dances for the team mascot. “The way some people in our community looked at this was as if she was the submissive woman dancing for the mean Arab guy. There is more to this community than bad guys and belly dancers,” Ayoub said.
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Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Darryl Adams told CNN affiliate KESQ that he is considering changing the team name and mascot.
"We're very sensitive to that and how we're going to work to make sure, maybe sometimes you should have some consultations when we're working with other groups and cultures," Adams said.
“Through our dialogue with the school, what we hope is finding a way where they can retain their history without making too many changes,” Ayoub said. “What we are looking for here is a compromise that removes the stereotyping of Arabs and positively portrays our heritage and our contributions. I think we can work together in achieving that.”
“There was no malicious intent on behalf of the school district. If this had been intended to be degrading or purposely a bad image of Arabs, I’m sure we would have been told about it much earlier,” Ayoub said.
Rich Ramirez, president of the Coachella Valley High School Alumni Association, told CNN that the team mascot acknowledges the role the Middle East played in the area’s history. According to Ramirez, the U.S. Department of Agriculture used date shoots from Middle Eastern countries to establish date orchards in the area.
In 1921, the valley held its now-annual date festival in Indio. People who dressed in the traditional Arab style were admitted for free. According to Ramirez, the Riverside County Fair now hosts around 300,000 people over 10 days every February.
In 1931, Coachella Valley High School started using the name “Arab” for their mascot.
Ramirez also cited the Middle East influence in community names such as Mecca, Oasis and Arabia. He also said Coachella has street names of Damascus and Baghdad, and Indio has a street named Deglet Noor, which is a type of date.
As for the appearance of the mascot, Ramirez said they could change it. "The comment they make is that it has a hook-nose Arab,” he said. “We have been using the snarling face to instill fear in the opponent. That's what a mascot does. But we can put a handsome dude in the mascot.”
"Work with us,” Ramirez pleaded. “Don't come off like we're something terrible. We're not terrible. When 9/11 came, we got terrible, terrible threats to change the name of our mascot. We said no.
"People love the name; they love the culture; they love our date festival," he said.