Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2014
For 83 years, Coachella Valley High School has rallied behind a mascot with a snarling face, a hooked nose, a heavy beard and wearing a headscarf–the campus’ beloved Arab.
The image, inspired by the Middle East ambiance of Coachella Valley’s desert landscape of date palms and communities named Mecca and Oasis, was displayed in school murals, on the basketball court and at half-time shows featuring a belly dancer who entertains a student clad in “Arab” garb.
Now, in a compromise with offended Arab Americans, the Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside County has dumped the controversial mascot and belly dancer, but held on to its team nickname, Arabs, according to one official. Both sides are also in negotiations over a more benign “Arab” logo.
The mascot and belly dancer were absent from the sidelines when the Coachella Valley High football team defeated Rancho Mirage High 26-7 in its season opener on Friday night.
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights group in Washington, D.C., launched a letter-writing campaign in November to get rid of the images on the grounds they enforce negative stereotypes of an entire ethnic group and millions of U.S. citizens. The group’s research showed that Coachella Valley High was the only campus in the nation with a demeaning image of an Arab for a mascot.
But Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the anti-discrimination committee, said, “After dialogue with school officials and student leaders–and consultation with the Justice Department–there was agreement that changes were needed. So the mascot was retired. While the logo is still on the gymnasium floor and murals on campus buildings, we understand that it’s a cash-strapped school district and they promised to take care of that in time.”