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Inca Lanes mascot offends some tribal members
Kenrick Escalanti has “broken bread” with the direct descendants of the Inca people. That's why the Quechan tribal member takes it personally when a local business is using a “goofy” caricature of a Native American as a mascot.
However, a spokeswoman for the owners of Inca Lanes says it never crossed their minds that it would be considered offensive and their only intention was to revive a “nostalgic” figure.
Jerry and Nancy Thomas brought back the mascot to celebrate the reopening of a newly renovated Inca Lanes, 1250 W. 16th St. It's been a part of the business since its beginnings in 1987, when the mascot was painted on a back wall.
“We have had the character for 25 years,” said Cristy Thomas, Inca Lanes spokeswoman.
“We thought bringing him back would be nostalgic. We thought people would remember him, kind of a throwback.”
Facebook fans suggested a naming contest for the “cute little man,” she said. The winner was expected to be announced Monday.
“We would never choose a derogative name. We are researching the names and making sure it's not derogative,” Thomas said Friday.
“We absolutely don't want to be offensive. It never crossed our minds that it would be derogative.”
Nevertheless, Escalanti and another tribal member still object to the use of the mascot.
“Ignorance is not an excuse. Seeing the contest out there, asking people to give it a nickname, you can see the insensitivity,” said Escalanti, a Quechan activist and co-founder of Kwatsan Radio.
“I've been to Peru. I've stayed with the Quechua, who are direct descendants of the Inca. I ate their food, I attended a blessing at Machu Picchu. We've shared their plight, and to see this depiction is appalling to me. It's a negative stereotype of indigenous people.”
Kwatsan Radio posted the caricature on Kwatsan Radio's Facebook page “to start a conversation” and has received mixed comments, with some people “brushing it off as whimsical or silly” while others call it “culturally insensitive.”
Escalanti said he's offended by the mascot's stereotype regalia and “goofy” expression. “I don't feel comfortable looking at it, just like I don't feel comfortable looking at the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians.”
He noted that he's equally offended by those sports mascots that depict Native Americans and fears the “same insensitivity is being spread to this community.”
Daniel Golding, a Quechan documentary filmmaker, said he was “taken aback” when he first saw the caricature. “For me personally, the idea of using a character like that is derogative to Native Americans.”
He describing the caricature as degrading because of its depiction of a Native American as “simple, happy and bowling.”
“It seems to me it's making fun of these people's culture and traditions.”
In particular, Golding was offended by the naming contest. Suggested names like “Chief Six-Pins” in his opinion show “total disrespect, especially in this day and age.”
“Mostly people are moving away from doing these things. It's like taking two steps back.”
Escalanti is surprised there isn't a bigger outcry by Latinos and Native Americans since Incas represent both heritages. More would protest if the caricature depicted a Quechan or Cocopah member, he said.
“If no one speaks out, it makes it seem like we Native people don't care. I don't want to see that in Yuma.”
Escalanti said his family, which includes four daughters, will not be supporting the business. “I don't want to see them out of business. I'm just asking them to please be culturally sensitive.”
If anyone has an issue with the mascot and wants to talk about it, the Inca Lanes owners invite them call, Thomas said.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.