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California school to keep ‘Arabs,’ may change mascot

AP

School officials in Southern California say a high school’s “Arabs” nickname is here to stay, but its divisive costumed mascot may undergo a face-lift.

The Coachella Valley Unified School District held a special meeting Friday night to address the recent dispute over the Coachella Valley High School Arabs and their bearded, snarling mascot with a large hooked nose who wears a traditional head covering.

Superintendent Darryl Adams said changing the Arabs name, used since the 1920s by the school in this town east of Palm Springs, is off the table, the Desert Sun newspaper reported.

District officials plan to meet this week with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a group that has said the mascot is offensive and wants it tossed. The group launched an online petition in an effort to pressure the school to abandon the mascot. So far, 900 people have signed.

Adams said district officials are open to changing the image represented by the mascot and will make an announcement on its future this week.

In a letter to the newspaper earlier last week, Adams said the mascot “was never intended to dishonor or ridicule anyone.”

“A mascot chosen to show reverence and honor for the customs of prideful Middle Eastern peoples throughout our region, now provokes negative feelings, and this must be addressed,” Adams wrote.

The Arab mascot has existed since the 1920s and was chosen to recognize the Coachella Valley’s reliance on date farming, traditionally a Middle Eastern crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported date palm shoots from Algeria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries to create orchards in the desert climate. The region also attracted some Arab immigrants — mostly of Lebanese background — who were involved in date farming and ran stores.

Over the years, the mascot evolved from a turban-wearing horseman carrying a lance to a standing figure with a scowl and a traditional head covering.

The mascot came under fire earlier this month when the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sent a letter to the school district complaining that the mascot, which appears in school murals and at football games, was stereotypical.

The dispute comes at a time when Native American activists are demanding that Washington’s National Football League team drop its Redskins moniker, which they consider offensive. Many high school and college teams have stopped using Indian-themed mascots.