The Coast News Group
Pablo Tac
Pablo Tac was a Luiseño Indian and international scholar born and raised at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. Photo courtesy of Christian Clifford

Oceanside Unified to rename school after local indigenous scholar

OCEANSIDE — The city’s school district is deciding when to officially rename one of its elementary schools after a Luiseño scholar.

In June, the Oceanside Unified School District board of trustees voted to rename San Luis Rey Elementary School after Pablo Tac, a Luiseño or Payómkawichum (People of the West) indigenous scholar whose writings were a primary source of the Luiseño language and culture up to the 20th century.

Tac was born on Jan. 15, 1822, at Mission San Luis Rey, located in present-day Oceanside. While studying for the Catholic priesthood in Rome, Tac wrote a description of life as a Mission Indian, created a dictionary of his people’s language and wrote about the lives and experiences of native people in Southern California.

He studied Latin and was the first Luiseño to attend college.

During the 2019-2020 school year, Garrison and San Luis Rey Elementary Schools were combined at the San Luis Rey campus after sinkholes were found on Garrison’s campus. It was then decided that the two schools would remain together and unite as one under a new name.

A committee comprised of several community members was formed to choose potential names for the newly united school. The committee narrowed more than 330 name submissions down to their top three choices for the board’s consideration: Pablo Tac, Dolores Huerta and John Lewis.

Huerta is known for her work as a labor activist and leader in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, having co-founded the National Farm Workers Association and pushed for women’s rights in the 1970s and 1980s. Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who worked to end racial segregation in the United States and uplift the voices of people of color.

Trustee Eleanor Juanita Evans made the first motion in favor of selecting Tac’s name over the other two choices.

“I know as we go into the future they will have many physical institutions, even ships named after them and have been named after them,” Evans said about Huerta and Lewis, explaining as to why she chose Tac’s name instead. “It’s really exciting that we have someone that’s academic, that is of the Oceanside-Mission San Luis Rey heritage, and who has made such an impact academically as well as within the humanities.”

Trustee Eric Joyce also shared why he thought Tac’s name is “the perfect fit” for the school, connecting Tac’s work with the elementary school’s dual-language program.

“His contribution for preserving language and the translation of his native language fits in really well with the idea that language is a big piece of the programming at San Luis Rey right now,” Joyce said. “It’ll be one of a kind, and I think it’s a beautiful name.”

The board unanimously approved the decision to rename the school after Tac.

One public speaker, Victoria Mariani, a fifth-grade teacher at San Luis Rey, urged the board to wait to formally rename the school until its renovations are complete.

“It would be premature to change the name of a very old, dilapidated school before any or all work is completed on campus,” Mariani said. “It will be a very hard sale to embrace a new identity under the same old, subpar surroundings.”

Another speaker, Michael Rael, said Tac’s name is the only one out of the three choices that provide “any kind of reconciliation or any kind of reparations for the neglect that has occurred” at both San Luis Rey and Garrison school sites.

At the upcoming July 20 board meeting, members will receive an update from staff about timelines on district bond projects including the San Luis Rey remodel. After receiving that information, the board will determine when to officially rename the school.