MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., February 5, 2014 – Nearing the end of the first half of the massacre originally labeled as the Superbowl, an ad by Coca Cola featured America the Beautiful sang in different languages. It didn’t take long for the social media to start spouting venom about the ad. Many believed this treatment of one of our most patriotic songs was wrong.
It didn’t matter that of the languages used, and people represented, there were Native Americans. Some immediately labeled the treatment of the song a desecration of our patriotic song. It brings back the quote (not confirmed) attributed to “Ma” Ferguson in Texas while talking in opposition to bilingual education:
“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for Texas schoolchildren.”
This is nothing new. Mostly conservatives keep on raising the “English Only” issue from time to time. Many believe that not having a unifying language is bad for our country and that it diminishes our identity. Others indicate that it is bad for commerce, as it is not productive to achieve a common goal. We have read episodes of small business owners prohibiting its employees using languages other than English while doing business, and even during their personal time at the establishment. Some have suggested that the owners and even some customers feel vulnerable when they can’t understand what the employees are talking about.
Reality is that if you want to succeed in any endeavor in our country, you have to be able to speak English. This is the natural incentive, not creating legislature to implement English Only. It is curious that these English-Only exclusivists don’t mention that a significant number of the people that defend our democracy have and continue to be people that speak relatively little English. This didn’t keep them from receiving and giving commands in combat.
Katherine Lee Bates has been credited with writing the lyrics for the song sometime in the late XIX or early XX century. She reminiscences that she thought of the words while on a hike to a high mountain in Colorado, seeing the natural beauty of the site. It is very telling that later she broke her life-long record of voting Republican to vote for Wilson, because she believed the League of Nations would be in peril with a Republican as president.
These two acts give us an idea of Bates’ love for the environment and her international bend. One wonders on what side of the isle she would be if alive today.
Another facet of this argument resides on the word “America”. While the piece was written to apply only to our country, (as well as the music, to follow the hymn “Materna” 1882), it has found its way to every country in the hemisphere. Why is that? Simple, Amerigo Vespucci was not even in what today is the United States when he created the geographic charts that made him famous. This act gave this whole hemisphere his name.
So one could say that Bates lyrics are applicable to all of America, North, South and Central. Furthermore, the lyrics are not exclusive to English-speaking countries, but to the whole hemisphere and some would say especially to Native American communities.
Since early in the XX century, peoples from all the Americas have sang this song. In Colombia it was deemed to be one of the most patriotic songs, second only to the National Anthem. Elementary school children would learn this song as part of their music class. To them there was no hint that the song had been written in the United States and even less that it applied only to this country. (Dios salve America, tierra de paz…).
So as we find out in many cases, the uproar for the Coca Cola commercial was probably based on too much sugar and caffeine, and not on facts. It was an emotional reaction that used ignorance and mal-information to flourish. Maybe, just maybe we shouldn’t overreact when things don’t “feel” right.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is on Facebook (Mario Salazar), Twitter (@chibcharus) and Google+.