On the first day of my freshman year at Chowchilla High School, we were taken on a tour of the school by upperclassmen.
I remember walking along with my freshman class on that breezy day in September and feeling excited, nervous and a little scared. As I looked around at the wide eyes of my fellow frosh, I knew they felt the same way. The last stop on the tour was right in front of the Chowchilla High gymnasium. We all gathered around a patch of tile cordoned off by rope. We looked down at multi-colored tiles fitted perfectly together in the emblem of a proud, strong, noble Indian Chief, Reddy Redskin, our high school mascot.
The upperclassmen explained to us that this was our high school mascot, to be revered and respected at all times. We were never, and I repeat never, to walk on, stand on, throw garbage on, or do anything disrespectful to Chief Reddy Redskin. In fact, it would be our responsibility as freshmen to clean the emblem with toothbrushes to make sure it always brightly represented our beloved Chowchilla High School.
As the years passed, my Redskin pride grew. I attended rallies, assemblies, parades, and participated on athletic teams that exemplified the pride of the Chowchilla Redskins. To be a Redskin was to be the best, the elite, the strong, the proud, and quite simply, the best. There was never a time that the Redskin name, meaning, symbol or attitude was comical, racist, disrespectful or disparaging. Rather than segregate our school, it united us. Whatever ethnicity, social, economical, or personality differences we had, we came together as a student body, as one, as Redskins.
On May 4, an Assembly Bill was passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that will mandate all California High Schools cease using Indian names and images for mascots on the basis is that it is a racial slur to Native Indians. This doesn’t just affect Chowchilla High School, but also Calaveras, Tulare and Gustine.
With all due respect to Native Indians, there was never a moment of time that we thought of our cherished Reddy Redskin as a racial slur. The community of Chowchilla, students of Chowchilla High, alumni, administrators, teachers, and staff treated the Redskin name with reverence. There is no way that anyone visiting our town could mistake the pride we display for Chowchilla Redskins as anything remotely derogatory.
The name of our town, “Chowchilla,” was derived from the tribe of Chaushila Yokut Indians and means “bravery.” For 100 years, the community of Chowchilla has been proud to be Chowchilla Redskins. We have weathered the rain to cheer in the bleachers of football games wearing the red and white, taken honors in parades and competitions, worked hard at fundraisers, and felt the pride of holding our diplomas with the Chowchilla Redskin symbol.
Brown is quoted in a Huffington Post article as saying, “I do not blame those students, the school or staff for any of these things. I do not think they knew better or considered what they were doing as wrong.”
Wrong? When I think about being a Chowchilla Redskin, the very last feeling I have is that I’ve done something wrong. Thank you for your absolution, Gov. Brown, but I don’t need it. I am who I am today, in large part, to my heritage as a Chowchilla Redskin. The pride, respect, sense of belonging and unity, the ability to look past race and differences to unite as one, and the love I have for my hometown are all a result of having been a Chowchilla Redskin.
Chowchilla Union High School District Superintendent Ron Seals, said it best, “We don’t call those offended by the term Redskins, Redskins. We call ourselves Redskins. We use the term as a sense of pride, respect and honor. We don’t use it in a derogatory way.
It’s been our school mascot since the (1920s). In the fall, we’re going to celebrate our 100-year celebration. We are a one high school town. We’re a small community with lots of alumni and generations of Redskins.
Now I’m just a small-town girl and not a politician, but I would think the state of California would have better things to do with the drought plaguing our state and many other large-scale issues.
That being said, if changing the name of the mascot in our tiny, little high school in our tiny, little town will help to assuage the world’s wrongdoings in any way, then I am happy to give up my title as a Chowchilla Redskin. I don’t need the title anyway. Being a Chowchilla Redskin isn’t in the name, it is in the heart.
Redskin strong. Redskin proud. Even an act of Congress can’t take that away.
Linell Hoffmann of Chowchilla is an account executive at Cumulus Media in Fresno. She can be reached on Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.