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California and the West

Campus to Keep a More Accurate Monty--Maybe a More Regal One

November 17, 2000|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Rejecting complaints that Monty Montezuma is racist, San Diego State President Stephen Weber announced Thursday that the campus mascot will remain but will become a more historically accurate portrayal of the Aztec emperor and not a "bare-chested, spear-throwing" yell leader.

"I believe people who say that this [mascot] is meant as a tribute" to Aztec culture, Weber told a news conference. "If so, we have a responsibility to be historically accurate. . . . It seems quite clear that Montezuma, the ruler of that empire, did not run around throwing a spear."

Weber's decision was immediately praised by alumni leaders but denounced by Latino students who wanted the mascot banned.

"This is a huge disappointment," said Christina Quimiro, president of the campus chapter of MEChA, a Chicano activist organization. "Monty Montezuma was created out of the racist belief that Indians are savages. This fight will continue until the university realizes it is perpetuating racism."

Bill Trumpfheller, president of the alumni association, said the group is eager to correct any inaccuracies in the way Montezuma is portrayed.

Weber has been besieged with pleas by San Diego State graduates not to ban Monty Montezuma, a figure at football and basketball games since 1941. Mayor-elect Dick Murphy and four members of the Board of Supervisors joined the movement to save Monty.

"There's no question our voice was heard," Trumpfheller said. "I'm sure President Weber's e-mail box is full [with pro-Monty messages] and will continue to be full for many months to come."

Weber also announced that the university will retain the name Aztecs for its sports teams and the Aztec logo for souvenirs.

But questions about Monty Montezuma's attire and behavior and the use of his image and other Aztec symbols will be referred to a committee of students, faculty and alumni for a review of historical accuracy and sensitivity. On T-shirts and other items, Monty is commonly shown as a scowling, red-faced figure in full headdress.

As played by a good-looking, well-muscled male undergraduate, Monty enters Qualcomm Stadium in a dramatic run, flinging a flaming spear onto the field and proceeding throughout the game to exhort San Diego State fans to cheer lustily for the home team.

If meant to portray Montezuma as emperor, a future Monty might have to sit quietly on the sidelines, showing virtually no emotion but studying the game intently.

Eric Van Young, history professor at UC San Diego and associate director of its Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies, said the energetic, physical behavior of the mascot is not an accurate portrayal of Montezuma as emperor. Also, rather than the showy garb and peacock-feather headdress favored by the mascot, the real Montezuma wore a tunic and cape akin to those of the Romans, said Van Young, a specialist in Mexico's colonial period.

"The real Montezuma II seems to have been a somewhat melancholic temperament, a thoughtful philosopher-king figure, deeply religious, always scanning the skies for omens," Van Young said. "The last thing he would have ever done is throw a spear."

Van Young noted that, as emperor, Montezuma did not engage in battle, and some scholars believe his lack of military leadership led his own people to stone him to death in 1520. Other scholars blame the invading Spanish for his death.

The debate over Monty began two months ago when the Native American Students Alliance demanded that the mascot be banned. The Student Council supported the demand and the controversy soon spread beyond the campus, with extensive media coverage, rallies and nearly continuous discussion on radio talk shows.

Weber said that while he considered all the viewpoints--including an overwhelmingly pro-Monty vote by the student body--the decision was not based on "popularity, cost or tradition." Weber said he consulted several experts on Montezuma, including Mexican scholar Miguel Leon-Portilla.

San Diego State's "invocation of Aztec culture is based on the belief that Aztec civilization exemplifies admirable qualities of strength, bravery, trueness to friends and civic virtue," Weber said. "San Diego State has chosen the Aztecs as a symbol of these qualities just as others might choose Trojans."

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