What's In a Name? For Texas' Newest University Mascot, Plenty of Controversy

Nov 14, 2014

A certain NFL team in Washington, D.C. has come under fire for its name – but a new Texas university appears to have a name controversy of its own.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the eminent consolidation of UT Pan-American and UT Brownsville, is in need of a mascot. But the front-runner –“vaqueros”, the Spanish word for “cowboys” – has proven so divisive that there’s an online petition demanding the resignation of the school’s new president.

Pauline Strong, a professor of Anthropology and director of the Humanities Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, has written extensively about cultural appropriation. “The argument is that when you name a team after a group of people, you subject them to possible caricature,” she says.

Not everyone has reacted negatively to the choice of mascot. According to Strong, many believe that the name choice reflects the history and culture of the region.

“The [campus] president, in choosing ‘vaqueros’, is trying to do honor to the region,” Strong says. “Those who think it’s a good name point to that. Those who are concerned about it have a number of reasons, but one that they point to is the possibility of ethnic stereotyping, as we’ve seen with American Indian mascots.”

Though some may view the mascot controversy as unnecessary, Strong says that the choice of nickname reflects an important choice of character.

“People really identify with their mascot,” Strong says. “Having some kind of name is important, because the mascot helps to consolidate an identity.”

Texas Standard intern Trace Levos also contributed to this post.