SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University will keep the Aztec mascot but consider replacing the logo of a red-faced, glaring Indian with a more accurate image, the school’s president announced Thursday.
President Stephen Weber’s decision caps a controversy over the university’s 76-year-old Aztec tradition, which American Indian and Latino student groups charged is racist and offensive.
Weber said he consulted with students, faculty, and alumni, as well as local American Indian leaders and experts on Aztec history before concluding that use of the Aztec name is a celebration of the ancient culture, not an offense.
“SDSU’s invocation of Aztec culture is based on the belief that the Aztec civilization exemplifies admirable qualities,” he said. The school “will proudly continue its affiliation with the Aztec culture and traditions as embodiments of strength, valor and intellectual achievement.”
Weber called for a task force of student, alumni and faculty representatives to study Aztec history and consider whether to change the school’s logo and the human portrayal of “Monty Montezuma” — based upon the Aztec leader who ruled in the early 1500s.
The group is to present its recommendations by May 1.
Meanwhile, the student mascot will continue to appear at sporting events, though Weber acknowledged “it is difficult to argue that our current bare-chested, spear-throwing Monty Montezuma accurately depicts the Aztec leader.”
Weber said Miguel Leon Portilla, a Mexican scholar whom he called “the world’s leading expert on Aztec culture,” found nothing racist or inappropriate in use of the nickname. The portrayal of Monty Montezuma, however, could be “risky” since it opens the possibility of “inappropriate behavior,” Weber said.
Scholars contend the real Montezuma II wore finely woven royal garments more like Roman tunics than a loincloth or the glittering, colorful outfit worn by SDSU’s student mascot.
Chicano and American Indian students opposed to use of the Aztec name shook their heads with disappointment as Weber spoke to reporters.
Christina Quimiro, of the Chicano group MEChA, said it is wrong to use a human historical figure as a mascot. Though a vote last month showed strong support for the Aztec name, Quimiro said most SDSU students are unfamiliar with the Indian culture.
“A lot of this comes out of ignorance,” she said.
Manuel Lieras, president of the American Indian student group that brought the issue to the Student Council in September, said convening a task force to create a new, less offensive logo would not solve the problem.
“As long as it’s a human representation of Monty Montezuma the struggle will continue,” he said.
The university adopted the Aztec mascot in 1925 to reflect the “courage and fighting spirit” of the Mesoamerican tribe, according to a student newspaper account.
In 1941, a student introduced the “Monty” character by emerging from a teepee at a homecoming game.
The current logo of a red-faced man wearing a feathered headdress debuted in 1997 — the product of a university committee that took input from American Indian and Chicano students, according to Weber.
Several students who shopped Thursday for university T-shirts and sweat shirts said they saw nothing wrong with the logo or nickname.
“Offensive? No way,” said Rosa Martinez, a sophomore communications major. “I can’t see why it would be offensive.”
“As a mascot I think it’s kind of cool,” said Jerry Lu, a senior and bookstore cashier. It’s an example of “American heritage and glorifies the race.”