How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Coachella Valley High School considers 'facelift' for its 'Arab' mascot (photos)

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Coachella Valley High School may give its Arab mascot a "facelift" after drawing the ire of a civil rights group, according to a top school official.

School superintendent Darryl Adams said a Nov. 1 letter of complaint from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has the community rethinking their mascot's look - that of a cartoonish man with a hooked nose, a beard and traditional Arab headcovering.

"Some of the students have already offered up ideas," Adams said. "Everybody has been very open about this."

Adams said he planned to get more feedback from the public at a special Coachella Valley Unified School board meeting Friday night. But he said that it was unlikely that the high school will give up the name of the mascot.

"You know, we're the Arabs," Adams said. "The high school alums, they love that name."

Abed Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee would not specify what course of action he wanted the high school to take.

But he said he was looking forward to a couple of days of meetings with city officials and residents when he arrives in Coachella Valley next week.

"They've been very professional and open and forthcoming with us," Ayoub said. "I think we can move forward toward accomplishing a resolution."

Ayoub said his group was alerted to the mascot name in October. They were alarmed by this YouTube video of a half-time show at the high school, during which the mascot dances on the court with a girl in a fringed belly dancer outfit. 

Coachella Valley High School mascot genie dance

"These are images that we fought against for decades," Ayoub said. "So they were pretty offensive.”

But Adams said that the mascot is intended to show the area's ties to Middle Eastern culture. Coachella Valley has a desert climate and has become one of the country's biggest date producers  since the Middle Eastern favorite was introduced there in the 1920's.

"So it's just really to honor the culture from the 1920's on up to now, and that hasn't changed," Adams said.

Ayoub said that it recognizes that the school district uses the Arab mascot not out of malice, but that there are other ways to honor a region's heritage without offending a group of people. 

Dropping the mascot, or even modifying its look, would require the high school to make physical alterations to the high school. For example, the basketball court features the mascot, and outside on one of the buildings, there's a mural of an Arab man with a woman.

The Arab mascot is not the only one on the Anti-Discrimination Committee’s radar: they've taken note of the Alhambra High School "Moors" and the Hollywood High School "Sheiks".  For now, though, Ayoub said his group is focusing its efforts on working with the Coachella Valley School District.

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