easthighorientalsFew people think their high school mascot is cool, and I’ll admit that I thought mine, the “Mustang,” was the epitome of generic. Yet after seeing the mascot for East High School in Akron, OH, all those hideous horse murals don’t seem so terrible after all.
East High School’s mascot is the “Orientals,” complete with a dragon named “Chang” and a website with the faux Asian font commonly found on Chinese take-out cartons. Nor is it the only school that uses racial characters as its representations: East High School in Rochester, NY also calls itself the “Orientals,” while the University of California, Santa Barbara is represented by the “Gauchos” (Mexican cowboys).

The issue of using ethnic references as mascot representations has long been a complicated problem. While the Washington Redskins football team has been continually under attack for its name, there hasn’t been nearly the same amount of controversy over Notre Dame University and their “Fighting Irish” mascot. This is mainly because the terms “Oriental,” “Gaucho” and “Redskin” are historically embedded with negative connotations, while “Fighting Irish” has more of a positive connotation.

It’s unlikely that any of these teams meant to be deliberately insulting — it could even be argued that these groups were adopted as mascots for their positive attributes. However, using an ethnic term or symbol to represent another group (oftentimes not consisting of the same ethnicity) is a strike to diversity. Asians, Native Americans and the Irish are complex people with complex cultures who shouldn’t be reduced to caricatures.

The “Orientals” as a mascot literally objectifies Asians and demeans them by placing them in the same category as the mustang or the bulldog. They’re seen as funny pictures or representations of a school instead of as a population and community. The seemingly innocuous representations can raise many issues such as: What type of apparel does this school support during games? What type of chants or slogans do they use during school events? Ragging on the opposing team is routine at sporting events, so what derogatory “Oriental” jokes will the opponents be making?

One of the high schools in my area in California, Fremont High School, originally had the mascot of the “Indians,” but under scrutiny from the district changed their mascot to the “Firebirds” instead. These other schools should follow suit as well and realize that ethnic groups should only represent themselves.

Photo via Angry Asian Man