May 12, 2006

Nuestro Himno: Spanish Language National Anthem an Outrage or a Delight?

Bush Sounds off on How Citizens Should Sing Our National Anthem
Sitting in traffic, flipping channels on the radio, I came in during the middle of an NPR news piece. I heard a snippet of a beautiful, heart-felt voice singing what sounded like "The Star-Spangled Banner"—in Spanish. My first thought was, Whoa—that's a shocker. Then I thought, Cool—it's beautiful and thought-provoking. Why not? Next, came the sound of Bush's voice saying, in his faltering, emotion-laden way, "I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English." Sounds like he stole that sound bite straight from a Conservative talk show host (and I snidley wondered about his own poor ability to speak English). He couldn't have said anything more incindiary to both his enemies and to pro-immigration constituents. Nor could he have said anything more un-American. Here's why . . .

Some Mottled Background for a Drinking Song
When Francis Scott Key penned "The Star-Spangled Banner," he lifted the melody from an old English drinking song. When the tune was accepted as our national anthem, that must have provided ample barroom fodder across the pond. A couple of centuries later, Jimi Hendrix rocked Woodstock—and the country—with his stunning and brilliant guitar riff take on it. Roseanne Barr Arnold got booed out of the ballpark with her tongue-in-cheek off-key belted-out version. Over the years, various recording artists have created their versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner." With such a mottled background, why shouldn't our national anthem have a Spanish-language version? Why is that scary and threatening to so many Conservatives?

We Are the World? Or They Are?
One columnist asked, would the French be upset if their national anthem, the "Marseilles," were to be sung in a different language? And she answered that they would be outraged. Well, the United States has always, always been about our melting pot of many cultures and flavas. The "We Are the World" mentality applies to the U.S. more so than almost any other country, France included. Whoever is a citizen of this country, other than Native Americans, owes their lineage to, yup, immigrants. Immagrants, who, at one time were foreign to this soil, who spoke a different language from the native people of this soil, and who brought different cultures to this soil. Sounds hypocritical to me to whine about the U.S. national anthem taking a Latino flava variation. Since when did English-language speakers shanghai the rights to all culture in this country?

Nuestro Himno: A Delightful Flava
The melody of our national anthem is stirring, though dreadful to sing well (I'm a singer—I've tried!). And then there are the lyrics, which were a nationalistic inspiration from the last ravages of a war. If I could re-write history, I'd rather our national anthem be "America, the Beautiful," anyway, which emphasises our country's natural splendors and our brotherhood—the acceptance of people of all cultures. Let's apply some of that acceptance to give this beautiful Spanish-language rendition of the national anthem the respect it deserves.

Counterpoint and What Do You Think?
Here's a counterpoint to my admittedly liberal opinion, from my girlfriend, Nina:

“I feel that the the StarSpangled Banner is the national Anthem of the Untied States of the Untied States of America, therfore it should be sung in English. To have it sung in another language defeats the purpose of it being theanthem of the American people. Do the Spanish speaking peole of America want to sing thier version at the same time as it is being sung in English then I feel it would be disrecpectfull to the American people.

“If this is country has become their home, then the Star Spangled Banner should become their Anthem as well!”

She then goes on to quote Theodore Roosevelt, 1907:

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith, becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

And here's a thoughtful and articulate view from Beth, whose recent ancestors were immigrants:

"I'm normally very liberal minded, but this issue really got stuck in my craw.

"It's the national anthem of the United States. The primary, unofficial official language of the United States is English and -- to be honest -- I think it should be the OFFICIAL language. Other countries have entries in their national laws that specify what their national language is, and I think we should too.

"It's our national anthem, and has been for a very long time. Admittedly, 'America the Beautiful' is a pretty and peaceable song -- and one that could serve very well as a national anthem -- but it should be up to all the citizens of this country to decide (by vote or some other means) if the anthem is to be changed.

"What galled me is that this bunch not only translated our national anthem into another language, they took it upon themselves to rewrite it...substantially...and then still tried to pass it off as the national anthem. Not a way to win supporters. Apparently, they seemed to think that no one was going to translate it back into English to make sure it was the same -- a silly notion since so much of our society's services have been forced to become bilingual because too many in the Latin communities either won't learn English or aren't learning it fast enough. Not a way to win supporters.

"The rewriting and translation of our national anthem was as galling as seeing pictures of those immigrant marches where there was no American flag, but there were plenty of Mexican and El Salvadoran flags. I agree with a lot of what Roosevelt said. There is only room for one flag here. It created a picture of disunity on our home soil at the very time we're preaching about unity to other countries that are being split apart by ethnic factions. It was bad timing, and the fact that they still pursued these marches now was selfish and self-absorbed. Not a way to win supporters.

"My great-grandparents immigrated here from Eastern Europe more than a century ago. While they still kept tabs on their old country, they integrated into American society. They wanted to become Americans, went through hell to do so, they sang the national anthem in English, and there was only one flag they flew.

"So, Tumerica, while I normally agree with you 100% on your political views, we contrast sharply on this issue.

"Message to all those marchers: If you want to live here and call yourself an American, you integrate into our society and you fly one flag -- the American flag. If you have so much national pride in your mother country, and want to fly its flag, then go the hell back home."

What do you think? Sound off below by clicking

English Translation

Verse 1

It's sunrise. Do you see by the light of the dawn

What we proudly hailed last nightfall?

Its stars, its stripes

yesterday streamed

above fierce combat

a symbol of victory

the glory of battle, the march toward liberty.

Throughout the night, they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"


Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave

above the land of the free,

the sacred flag?

Verse 2

Its stars, its stripes,

liberty, we are equals.

We are brothers in our anthem.

In fierce combat, a symbol of victory

the glory of battle,

(My people fight on)

the march toward liberty.

(The time has come to break the chains.)

Throughout the night they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave

above the land of the free,

the sacred flag?

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