A group of students at San Antonio College is concerned their school’s new mascot reinforces racist stereotypes.
Antonio the Masked Ranger was introduced to students at a pep rally earlier this month wearing a black mask, red cape and black sombrero.
“What people are going to take away from this is that it's now some kind of Latino bandit,” said Nati Román, a Mexican American Studies major. “It kind of plays into those old stereotypes that were very prevalent in our media and Hollywood of the Mexican bandit.”
Román also serves as vice president of the student group Somos la Gente, which roughly translates to “We are the People.” The group is dedicated to offering a safe space for students of color.
College President Robert Vela posed for a photo next to the Masked Ranger at the pep rally Oct. 9. He said he has directed his staff to get rid of the mask, but he doesn’t find the costume problematic.
“I don't have an opinion about someone else’s perception of what that could mean for them because, you know, I just simply don't see that,” Vela said when asked to respond to the concerns raised by Somos la Gente.
Evalinda Davila, the president of the Student Government Association and a public affairs major, also said she doesn’t see a problem with the mascot.
“Students like him,” Davila said. “When we had the pep rally to introduce him, he had student support.”
Vela and Davila said the mascot is called Antonio after the city and college, not because he’s Latino. They also said that student government didn’t like the Gnome Ranger, the mascot that’s attended SAC events the past five years.
“We have a Student Government Association, we have other leadership groups that have provided input over the years. And what they did not want was the Gnome Ranger representing them at school functions,” Vela said. “So I tasked our public relations officers to come up with something more appropriate.”
Davila wasn’t a part of student government at the time but she said previous members of the student government told her they asked college administrators for a mascot “more vibrant” than the Gnome Ranger costume adopted in 2014. It looked like a dwarf, with a white beard, red hat and brown belt.
At the time, college officials said the Gnome Ranger was a way to distance the college from the “historical controversy” surrounding the Texas Rangers. San Antonio College students have been known as The Rangers since the 1920s.
Students with Somos la Gente, however, think any association with the Rangers is inappropriate because the Texas Rangers started out as a vigilante group that killed Mexicans and Native Americans.
“What we're asking for is a non-human, non-violent and non-racist mascot,” said Diana Flores, president of Somos la Gente. “That's not necessarily a difficult task.”
Vela said SAC’s mascot is a generic Ranger, not specifically a Texas Ranger, and that the Texas Rangers are now an important law enforcement agency.
“I've worked directly with Texas Rangers in my former role as a probation officer before I came into higher ed, and I've also seen a lot of the good Texas Rangers have done, especially in these very rural communities in Texas where they don't necessarily have the resources to solve very complex crimes,” the college president said. “I know there was a point in history where there were some documented cases of mistreatment of Mexicans and Texans and those kinds of things, but that is not the current Ranger.”
Somos la Gente met with Vela last semester to ask for his support to replace the mascot. Flores said they thought they had his support until the college unveiled Antonio the Masked Ranger without asking for student input.
“They have a history department. They have a Mexican American Studies Department,” said Flores, who is majoring in history. “We pretty much gave them a handbook on, 'Hey, this is what not to do.' And we feel that we were deliberately kept out.”
Vela said he didn’t invite the college community to help select the new costume because that takes time and resources.
“We simply needed something to go with this year because we had an unveiling of a new gym,” Vela said. “This can always change if the students want it. (If) they want to enhance the costume or they want to change the costume that's perfectly fine. I simply did not want to go through another academic year with them not being completely happy with the Gnome Ranger.”
He was scheduled to meet with Somos la Gente’s faculty advisor to discuss the issue Friday. He said, however, the student group would have to work through student government if they want to have a mascot that doesn’t have Ranger in the name.