UCSB Deserves the Raccoon its Students Request

Of all the things to love about UCI, I think our mascot comes in above anything else we have to offer. The anteater is an odd yet formidable figurehead to lead our sports teams into battle, standing out among the UCs and the nation as a truly unique symbol.

One of our sister campuses, UCSB, is currently undergoing a small insurrection regarding their current mascot, with students running a petition and open forum in support of the mapache (Spanish for “raccoon”) to replace the gaucho (a South American cowboy) which has been troubling people over its potentially racially insensitive use. UCSB should listen to its students and make these changes, if not for the cultural irrelevance of the gaucho, then for the cuteness of raccoons.

A petition on change.org has sprouted up in support of the movement, with 2,660 signatures at the time of writing this article. Many people commenting on the petition claim that they are against the gaucho’s presence on UCSB’s teams because it is a racist caricature of a South American cultural term.

The gaucho became UCSB’s mascot in 1936 after students voted for it over their original roadrunner symbol. According to UCSB’s website, the gaucho is not a reference to gauchos themselves but rather Douglas Fairbanks’ portrayal of a gaucho in a 1927 film. Not directly referencing a gaucho but rather a depiction of one is already an odd choice of mascot and gets worse considering the cultural insensitivity the gaucho has allowed students to act out.

Tortillas used to be thrown onto sports fields when UCSB sports teams did well, only tying into the gaucho mascot by way of their shared Hispanic roots. Although it was a unique way to celebrate success against other schools, the problematic use of Mexican food as a sign of victory just because their mascot happens to be South American is a flimsy and borderline racist connection that was luckily shut down by the school for all sports but soccer.

With these potentially harmful practices in mind, it only makes sense that the raccoon should replace the gaucho. Raccoons are a Californian staple, and I love seeing those little dudes climb over the Starbucks furniture in Student Center at night. Apparently there are a good amount of them at UCSB, too, giving the name at least some cultural relevance to students.
The raccoon is also an objectively cuter, easier mascot to advertise and sell to families who want to represent their school. I can’t imagine dressing up as gauchos would go well on any UC campus, but creating a simple raccoon costume is straightforward and adorable.

However, the gaucho is a long-established trademark of UCSB. It can be hard to let go of something that has been so ingrained into the school’s culture for so long, and, like most schools, there is a considerable amount of physical and digital infrastructure that heavily reference the gaucho. A reluctance to change could be in large part due to the insane amount of work it would take to issue a school-wide mascot change.

Also, the gaucho, while potentially allowing people to act racially insensitive, is also a great symbol for the UCSB populace to rally behind. Despite the tortillas and outfits, the UCSB sports teams get tons of fan support, and it’s hard for any team to make a transition as large as changing an entire mascot.

Although it will require much effort, the raccoon would be a worthy addition to the UC collection of unique mascots. If enough students sign the petition or directly ask the school to make the change, the administration should take the right steps and do so. I have no stake in UCSB’s sports performance, but simply having that cute of a mascot might make it harder to cheer against them during basketball games.

Isaac Espinosa is a third-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at imespino@uci.edu.