Officials serving a school district in Santa Maria, California, recently decided to replace a logo that depicts La Santa Maria, the largest of the three Spanish ships used by explorer Christopher Columbus in his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492.

Although the town has no connection to Columbus, the Santa Maria City Council unanimously voted to change the design of the official city seal in 1971 to include “a representation of Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria,” the ordinance specified. The school district informally followed suit, eventually.

According to the Santa Maria Times, “Now, 50 years later, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is taking the first steps towards changing the logo that several students and community members say is reminiscent of a shameful history of genocide and violence against Indigenous peoples at the hands of the Italian explorer.”

The outlet reported, “The district board agreed to cease production of any new representations of the ship logo on business cards, mastheads, or other district supplies that have traditionally featured the image, and tasked Superintendent Antonio Garcia with creating a timeline and plan for the development of a new logo.”

The district includes four high schools in northern Santa Barbara County with a combined enrollment of more than 8,100 students, the overwhelming majority of which are Hispanic or Latino, according to recent data provided by the California Department of Education.

District officials began researching the history surrounding the logo after the subject was raised last spring. Superintendent Garcia said it began to appear on formal district documents in the “mid and late 1970s,” adding that there was “no formal action taken by the board to adopt the ship as the official logo.”

“When they remove the logo, for me and the community, it would be really symbolic showing that the district is willing to change…it would show Indigenous students that we’ve got your back, that you’re allowed to embrace your culture,” said Yaquilina Aguirre, a senior at Pioneer Valley High School, per the Times.

Aguirre is also a member of Future Leaders of America, a California-based Latino youth community organizing group focusing on Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Angel Lopez, another youth activist with the organization, reportedly said the move “can be important to address the anti-Indigenous bullying, derogatory comments and racism experienced by Indigenous students in these school settings.”

Noozhawk, which covers local news in the area, reported that “several community members have called for an end to the ship logo, which also is used by the local newspaper,” and:

In letters sent [to] the district, commenters, both adults and students, called for the logo’s elimination, noting the atrocities by Columbus, and labeled the logo offensive since it symbolizes oppression, genocides and more.

“It is long past time for a re-examination of our history and to pick appropriate new symbols that represent unity and equity,” Pam Gates wrote.

Board members noted that the ship exists throughout the district — on letterhead, vehicles and even the board dais.

“It’s everywhere,” [school board member Dominick] Palera said. “If you start looking around the district and at all of our schools, the ship is in a lot of places.”

City officials say the city has no plans to change its logo, which reportedly “can be found today around City Hall, on city vehicles and police officers’ badges, and as decorative tiles on freeway overcrossings.”

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