It seems that every year after the Superbowl there is controversy about the commercials. This year is not an exception. An ad done by Coca-Cola is the one that is creating the most buzz this year. The ad seemed harmless enough at the start. I assume it was trying to convey that America is a melting pot of people from all over the world that come here. The song America the Beautiful was being sung while showing all the difference ethnicities that make up our country. The song was being sung by a variety of different voices in other languages. Yes that was wrong.
I have blogged about this previously. I am first generation. Proudly so in fact. I grew up in a household that ate foods that may be considered different by a large swath of people in this country. Especially when you consider lutefisk at Christmas time. Believe me when I tell you, it isn't something that Americans widely embrace. I LOVE it. I don't really care that someone else thinks it is gross and unappetizing. It says Christmas to me. I put up my tree on December 13 as is tradition in my family's native country. It is Lucia after all. I eat a great deal of root vegetables and fish. I love Scandinavian candies and cookies.
This was the first Christmas in almost two decades that I was able to go to the Scandinavian club for the Christmas party. I not only enjoyed all the different foods I was able to get, I really enjoyed seeing the people who I grew up around. I hadn't seen many of them since moving to DC almost two decades ago. Although I still would hear about the goings on in their lives through the people I had stayed in contact with.
People have this wrong-headed belief that those who believe that new immigrants should learn English are being told they can't have their own traditions. That somehow in their home they are unable to keep their traditions alive. Simply stupid, I know of no one who is saying that. I do firmly believe that families should keep those things alive for their children. Children should be taught where they come from. They should be taught all the things that make their family and ancestors uniquely what they are. That is part of you. But that doesn't mean that you sing a national song that is uniquely American in another language. Ask yourselves how that would go over in a country such as France. Do you think that the French people would be happy to hear one of their national songs sung in another language? Considering they have a board to help keep slang from entering their language, I think I am pretty safe in saying the answer to that question is no.
Should Russia, who is hosting the Olympics starting later this week, have their national songs sung in all the different languages from the countries that will be descending upon them? The answer to that is no. This is no different. It isn't a swipe at immigrants or visitors to their country.
As I said, I grew up around immigrants. Most of my childhood was spent with people who didn't speak English as their first language. On any given holiday you didn't hear much English being spoken. We celebrated the Fourth of July like most Americans did. We had picnics, we ate hotdogs and hamburgers, we went and watched fireworks to celebrate something that was near and dear to the hearts of those immigrants. The promise of the American Dream. That they too could come to this country, work hard, and give their children a better future that they could have ever hoped for in their small town by the Lapland. A town that had little hope at the time after the devastation of World War II. Europe didn't recover as quickly as the U.S. did, or least not the part where my family comes from. These people whose lives started around the time of the depression and the war didn't see many options in their hometowns. They were brave enough to set sail to America (legally, by the way) and make something more for themselves and for their kids. Some of those children were born there, others, like myself, were born here.
I have always looked at the way I grew up as the foundation to the believe system that I hold today. These were people who came with very little. As far as I know none of them knew the language when they got here. They would depend on the others who arrived before them to help them with the transition. Those that could speak English would act as interrupter to help them get their children enrolled in schools. They would give them advice on jobs, housing, and getting themselves settled in their newly adopted land. Every one of them learned English. Why? Because the entire point of coming here was to build a life for themselves and their kids. If they wanted to do that they had to learn the language.
The ones that had a hard time adjusting went back to Finland. That didn't happen often, but it did happen. But the vast majority of them struggled to learn the language. Some of the stories that I have heard over the years of the words they would get wrong are quite funny. One woman was trying to show off her new language skills while have tea and cookies with her immigrant friends. She came and put down a plate of homemade cookies down on the table and told everyone that she made the vegetables herself with a recipe from the "American" woman who employed her to clean her home. A few that knew the language better than her laughed and told her about her mistake. My dad never did get the proper pronunciation of any word that started with the J as that sound doesn't exist in his native language. Considering my last name starts with one it always confused people to hear him say it. Jello was Yellow in my house. But they did the best that they could. They helped each other to become Americanized, which was not something they viewed as a burden or an insult. They wanted my generation to be Americans and be proud of our citizenship. If I had a dime for every time I was told how lucky I was to be born in this country while I was growing, I would have quite the nest egg.
I am a person who does believe that being bilingual should be a goal for most people. It does help you in the world that gets smaller and smaller all the time. This isn't about learning other languages. This isn't about not accepting the fact that America is a country of different origins that come together as one. That is actually the point. Out of Many, One. Our national motto. Language needs to be one of the unifiers. The national songs also need to be one of the unifiers. Those songs should be sung in English. It is about bringing all those ethnic groups and people who have hailed from other native lands together to prosper as one country that is united. When we stand together we are a far greater force.
There are things that are American to their core. Our national songs must remain that way. English, while not the official language (and should be), is the language of the land. We start taking that away, we close our eyes while that is slowly being changed, we may as well give up on the thought that we can survive long-term as a country that is The United States of America. Speak whatever language you want in your home. Speak whatever language when you are out with fellow immigrants in public. But when it comes time to stand as an American and sing the National Anthem or America the Beautiful, get out your English skills and do your adopted country proud.
So yes Coca-Cola you were wrong. That commercial does nothing to actually help Americans come together. Quite the contrary in fact. It divides us and weakens us further. Just ask the European countries that are having problems dealing with the immigrants that are not assimilating well into their new adopted countries.