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    Rio Grande Guardian > Guest Column > Story
checkNiederstrasser: Viva Vaqueros!
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Last Updated: 9 November 2014
By Rolf Niederstrasser
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EDINBURG, November 9 - University of Texas—Pan American (UTPA) students and community are witnessing a vigorous debate about the new mascot for the new University of Texas—Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), to be inaugurated in the fall of 2015. Some protestors want to retain "Bucky" (nickname for the symbol of the Bronc) of UTPA.

However, since the University of Texas—Brownsville (UTB) will be a part of the new university, that decision, in fairness to the “Ocelots”, would not be possible. A new symbol was clearly necessary. However, many are protesting the decision announced by the UT Regents of "Vaqueros" as the new symbol. They claim to already have more than 6,000 online signatures. They plan a protest on the UTPA campus for Monday, November 10, 2014, as is their right.

As a graduate of this fine university, a double major in Political Science and History, allow me to weigh in on the debate. Also, as a student from another country I bring a different, perhaps broader perspective.

The new symbol is a very good fit for the university and region. The current anger is perhaps understandable; change is always hard. But the new symbol will soon be cherished, as much or more than the previous symbols of the university. "Vaquero" is Spanish for “cowboy”. It is also accepted in English (See: “The American Heritage College Dictionary” and “Roget’s International Thesaurus”). The Spanish “os” includes both genders. Some critics of “Vaqueros” claim it is not “American” enough. They are wrong. Some indicate the new name will somehow damage the appeal of the university in the U. S. and abroad. The opposite is true. It is more likely, in fact, to attract more international students.

Neither is "Vaqueros" in any way culturally insensitive. Indeed, it is truly international. It portrays the cultural past and present of the area, especially the 95 percent Mexican American population. In no way does it exclude other groups who have contributed to the history of this unique area. The "Vaquero," historically speaking, has been a main contributor to the growth of South Texas and the Valley. From the famous cowboy song “The Ballad of Sam Bass,” sung by cowboys herding longhorn cattle from South Texas to the Canadian border through the Chisholm Trail, this region was, to a great extent, built on cowboy culture.

The use of “Vaqueros” is in no way akin to terms that have disturbed Native Americans in cases involving professional teams of U.S. baseball or football. Indeed, “Vaqueros” is a broad term, connoting toughness, dedication and pride. According to “U.S. News and World Report”, about 530 of mainstream colleges and universities have altered names of mascots since 1996. Reasoning can include "upgrading” the university, perhaps to attract more students by sounding more prestigious. That is not the case here.

It is well known the Rio Grande Valley of Texas has been affected by a strong Mexican-American culture for generations. Indeed, that culture, our people have only begun to be taken more seriously. We demand respect and will return that respect to others. UTPA/ UTRGV should hold on to their cultural heritage.

The new university will become one of the largest institutions of higher education for Hispanics in the nation. The creation and quality of the new medical school, expansion of athletic programs and the new Masters and Doctorates will be the prime factors in drawing U.S. and international students to attend UTRGV. The school mascot will have little influence on that. The new President, Dr. Bailey, recognizes that fact and has the broader, best interests of the students and the community in mind.

It may be some of the critics have problems with identity. There is no place in these days of increasing globalization for hesitation in embracing with pride one’s heritage. And the proud, athletic Vaquero allows those of us not Mexican American to share equally in this south Texas identity. We live in a world that it increasingly bi-lingual, indeed, multi-lingual and multi-cultural. It is a world characterized by increasing integration of socio-economic and cultural institutions. We should not view this change as a threat or as patronizing; it is anything but.

These universal views were some of the aims of UTPA. They will be among the aims of UTRGV. That is, the goal will be to prepare students well and make them nationally and internationally competitive. Studies to reach these goals would include choices of Latin American issues and culture as well as choices that develop opportunities for Mexican American Studies.

Riding on top of these commendable goals will be the sturdy symbol of the Vaquero and his trusty steed or bronco. To quote a distinguished author and professor, “It is very appropriate for UTRGV to have as its mascot the name of “Vaqueros” as a symbol and presence of a heritage that set the foundation for a culture that defines south Texas” - Dr. Lino Garcia, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Spanish Literature, UTRGV.

Rolf Niederstrasser is a graduate of UT-Pan American.

Write Rolf Niederstrasser


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