Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Coachella Valley High settles on new 'Mighty Arabs' mascot



The new face of the 'Mighty Arabs' (l.) replaces the retired 'Arab' mascot that triggered complaints by Arab-Americans.
The new face of the 'Mighty Arabs' (l.) replaces the retired 'Arab' mascot that triggered complaints by Arab-Americans.
The new face of the 'Mighty Arabs' (l.) replaces the retired 'Arab' mascot that triggered complaints by Arab-Americans.
A physical education uniform available for $15 through Coachella Valley High School's web store shows "The Arab" mascot, which has become the center of a controversy over demeaning stereotypes.
Coachella Valley High School
The new face of the 'Mighty Arabs' (l.) replaces the retired 'Arab' mascot that triggered complaints by Arab-Americans.
An image of the Coachella Valley Arab mascot.
Yager 91/Flickr Creative Commons
The new face of the 'Mighty Arabs' (l.) replaces the retired 'Arab' mascot that triggered complaints by Arab-Americans.
A view of Coachella Valley High School in Thermal. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee say the image of the Arab mascot on a carpet with a woman is an example of "gross stereotyping."
Michele Sabatier/Flickr Creative Commons


Out with the sneering, hook-nosed 'Arab' mascot of old.

In with the new face of the "Mighty Arabs" — an ethnically ambiguous-looking man sporting a manicured beard and a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headscarf.

"The new mascot is a distinguished-looking Arab gentleman in historical dress," Superintendent Darryl Adams Coachella of the Valley Unified School District told KPCC. "It's a stoic figure but a very classy figure. It symbolizes pride and leadership for the football team, or just the school in general." 

The district's Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved the new mascot and name in a 5-0 vote.

The decision comes nearly a year after the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee protested the mascot in a Nov. 2013 letter, bringing national attention to an area best known for date farming and hosting the Coachella music festival.

Adams said that the district hopes to raise between $20,ooo to $30,000 to scrub the image of the old mascot from several school murals and replace physical education T-shirts. 

But the old mascot won't completely disappear right away. Adams said students can continue to wear their P.E. shirts. And as of Wednesday, the old mascot was still on the school's home page.

The Arab-American civil rights group plans to help the district fundraise. Legal and policy director Abed Ayoub told KPCC the new mascot is a vast improvement. It had recommended the design after seeing other proposals, and consulting with community members.

"We're very happy with this," Ayoub said. "It's something that could be on the murals and on the gym floor without offending anybody. It's not a caricature based on stereotypical, Orientalist views of who Arabs are."

Adams said that the controversy has turned out to be a blessing for the school. There are now plans to hold school exchanges with high schoolers in Dearborn, Mich., which has one of the country's largest concentrations of Arab-Americans.

"We'll have students go there and learn about the Arab-American experience," Adams said of Coachella High's predominantly Latino student body. "And have students come here and learn about the Hispanic/Latino experience and have a connection and relationship that I think will extend through our lifetime."

Ayoub said his organization does not know of any other schools at this time with an 'Arab' mascot. He said that he is aware of schools in southern California that have 'Moors' or 'Sheiks' as mascots, but they were not as worrisome as Coachella's old logo.

"What was happening at Coachella was something very egregious," Ayoub said. "It was something we felt we had to address right away."

Ayoub will be traveling to Coachella for a joint press conference with the school district on Friday.