A Culturally Sensitive Mascot

I just heard on NPR about schools all over the place scrambling to find culturally sensitive mascots to replace racially discriminatory figures. I googled college mascots and got a list of a few hundred mascots, only one of which was obviously “racial,” though hardly discriminatory. The rest were frankly cartoonish and some downright stupid, but there’s nothing wrong with that. So I assume they were talking about secondary schools, and I’ve had experience in that arena.

Namely, when my grandson started at a new International Baccalaureate school (in New Mexico), they were all in an uproar about choosing an appropriate mascot, and the principal told me they wanted something truly significant. As an artist/designer, as well as an intellectual and historian, I proposed a mascot embodying the concepts of enlightenment, education, and culture. But the administration buried my proposal and steered the decision into the realm of standard animalistic clichés. They chose an African lion—if only because no other school in town had nabbed that one—which was as locally significant and symbolic as an Antarctic penguin.

The design I proposed was based on an incised drawing on a shell cup found in the Spiro mound in northeastern Oklahoma dating to c. 1200 CE, a winged, horned serpent (rattlesnake) known in Southwestern Native American cultures as an “avanyu,” a water spirit.

AVANYU MASCOT

The figure is an authentic representation of the Olmec/Maya/Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, bringer of culture, the calendar, and maize to primordial Mesoamerica. Its horns come from ancient Teotihuacan, and its full-scale wings and “forked” eye are traits encountered in the Mississippian cultures of North America. Literally nothing could be a more culturally sensitive and significant mascot or more relevant to the New World.

In my buried proposal, I suggested that the school’s students could work together to color in the image, decide on a name for it, use it dramatically on school spirit gear, and construct a dragon-like float for parades and sporting events.

My grandson’s school shortsightedly missed the boat. If there’s a school somewhere out there in the market for a meaningful mascot, it’s yours. Email me (rbalthazar@msn.com), and I’ll supply you a drawing in vectors which can be freely sized for whatever you want to do with it.

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