Friday, April 28, 2006

The Anthem in Spanish

by Jackrabbit Slim
Today's media tempest in a teapot is the news that The Star-Spangled Banner has been translated and recorded in Spanish. That seems entirely sensible to me, given that a large percentage of residents of the United States speak Spanish. Predictably, though, the troglodyte right has seized this as some sort of rallying cry, and our fearless leader, Boob McNutt, er, George W. Bush, has said it should not be sung in Spanish. Good grief!

First of all, English is not the official language of the United States of America. We have no official language. If, at some point in the near future, there are a majority of Spanish speakers in this country, then those of us who don't speak Spanish will have to learn to habla Espanol. History is fluid, and nothing can be taken for granted. I believe there are models that predict that those of Northern European descent will not be the majority in the U.S. in the next 100 years, and if so, so be it.

Secondly, just because people want to sing the national anthem in Spanish doesn't mean that they can't speak English. Bush says that immigrants to this nation should learn to speak English. That's correct, I would say, as your chances at economic success brighten considerably if you can speak English (although there are many people who go very comfortably cradle to grave without speaking English, particularly in consolidated areas like Chinatowns, etc.) But just because an immigrant learns English shouldn't mean they ditch their old language like an old pair of shoes. The ability to speak several languages should be seen as an attribute. How many can Bush speak? He can barely speak one.

Good old American xenophobia really seems to be inflamed by a fear of the Spanish language. I've witnessed people who are disgusted to see two employees in a store having a private conversation in Spanish. The implication seems to be that if you are on American soil, you should speak English, even if both speakers don't have English as a first language. This reminds me of the British ban on the Irish speaking their native language, or, closer to home, the stamping out of Native American languages when those folks were rounded up and sent to reservation schools.

English will be the language of commerce and culture for this planet for the foreseeable future. There's no need to worry about it disappearing. If we're so proud of being the melting pot or mosaic or what have you then let's have the National Anthem in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Armenian and everything else.

Finally, the Star-Spangled Banner is an odd fixture in our culture. It's set to the tune of an English drinking song, and seems only to be heard before sporting events and when we win Olympic medals. There's nothing about it that compels it to be treated as sacred.

31 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

I can understand the idea that we need to "do something" about illegal immigration. I don't agree at all, but I can see where they're coming from.

But for the President to say that people shouldn't sing the anthem in any other language strikes me as out and out bigotry. Even if English were our official language, it still wouldn't excuse this.

4/28/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'm glad Bush made those statements, the latino population is huge, and all this hullaballoo is driving latino voters away from the GOP in droves. The fact that Latinos are mobilizing in the streets gives me great hope that come November there will be hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of hispanic people helping to vote republicans out of congress. I will be one of them.

We should embrace all the cultures of this nation. We are all immigrants, the only natives to this country have been pretty much wiped out.

Migrant workers who are exploited by american employers are not to blame, there is no point in making illegal aliens more illegal. If congress really wanted to make the situation better, they would crack down on the employers who are only paying these people $4 per hour. Or, I don't know, maybe raise the minimum wage? I have tried to live on $5.25 per hour; it is impossible.

4/28/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

threadjack (or Nic's request for a flame war):

raising minimum wage = more rapid inflation

4/28/2006 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

raising minimum wage = more rapid inflation

A factoid often asserted but rarely supported.

At least make an effort.

4/28/2006 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Stroup said...

I don't really care if they sing the National Anthem in Spanish (or any other language). I myself haven't sung it since I was 8 years old.

But they didn't just translate the song into Spanish. They essentially wrote a new song and set it the same music.

4/29/2006 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Isn't the concept of the "melting pot" actually the antithesis of multiculturalism?

I don't have anything against multiculturalism per se, but I can see that the side effects are many times what amounts to self-segregation, which is something that seems to be on the rise in this country, and I think that is unfortunate.

4/29/2006 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Dav said...

Lamentable muestra de cerrazón y conservadurismo por parte de The Land of the Free.

La verdad, hay que recordar a los Padres de la Revolución Americana before the die on the shelves of a Library.

5/01/2006 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Les pères de la révolution américaine qui a possédé des esclaves? Ou ceux qui se sont opposés à l'esclavage et ont voulu les esclaves embarqués de nouveau à l'Afrique? Est-ce que c'est la terre du libre vous a signifié?

5/01/2006 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Dav said...

No, I'm refeering to those who claimed for the freedom of citizens from oppression, absolutism and monarchy. Those who opened the path for anyone to being able to choose their right to be master of their own life.

A esos Padres de los EEUU me refiero.

Saludos!

5/03/2006 04:29:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

WASHINGTON - President Bush says the national anthem should only be sung in English, but he was apparently singing a different tune during his first run for President and at his inaugural festivities.
On the campaign trail in 1999, Bush would often sing along as the national anthem was sung in Spanish during stops in Hispanic communities, GOP scholar Kevin Phillips wrote in his book "American Dynasty."

After Bush was elected, Cuban exile and pop vocalist Jon Secada also sang the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in both English and Spanish at the 2001 opening ceremony of the presidential inaugural, according to media reports at the time.

The White House had no immediate comment, claiming it was unaware of the reports of those instances, which Democrats and their allies eagerly shared with reporters.

Bush and Secada sang the actual national anthem in Spanish, and not the new song with different lyrics and music that has angered many English-speaking Americans.

Nonetheless, Bush still appeared to have amnesia when he suggested last week that the "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an English-only tune.

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English," Bush said.

5/03/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

damn, Slim beat me to it:

From Cox News Service, 1/18/01:

The opening ceremony reflected that sentiment. A racially diverse string of famous and once famous performers entertained Bush, soon-to-be First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who watched on stage from a special viewing area.

Pop star Jon Secada sang the national anthem in English and Spanish.



Apparently, Secada singing the anthem in Spanish was a regular feature of the Bush campaign. From the 8/3/00 Miami Herald:

The nominee, his wife Laura, erstwhile rival John McCain and his wife Cindy joined Bush on a platform where children sang the national anthem - in “Spanglish,” Secada explained.

5/03/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

This has pretty much all spun out of control into complete meaninglessness, hasn't it? Though Jackrabbit and Chris aren't saying it explicitly in the last two comments, there is some implied commentary there, but it's left me scratching my head.

I just want to try to recap this: the publicity was about taking "The Star-Spangled Banner" and writing completely new Spanish lyrics for it. It was not a translation, as Alex pointed out. A translation may be entirely sensible, as Jackrabbit said in his original post and the US State Department agrees, but to what purpose does setting a new song in Spanish to the same music help anyone? (Personally I've always wanted to hear a rocking version of that old English drinking song that's the basis of the anthem.)

Bush is asked and says the national anthem should be sung in English. But--gotcha--people remember Bush singing it in Spanish (but not the latest incarnation) and having it sung in English and Spanish at his inauguration. That two-faced Bush! But wait a minute--if he sang it in Spanish, doesn't that make him an especially sensitive guy, multiculturally speaking?

I'm trying to find the point in all this, and I can't, except that The Man seems to have decided that immigrant rights is the big dividing issue this year rather than gay rights. :-/

Karl Rove must be scheming to get key states to have referendums on English-only anthem singing on the ballot in time for the fall election, thus creating a wedge issue that helps (presumably) get Republicans elected. Is that it?

5/03/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

My unspoken commentary is that Bush will do one thing in front of potential Spanish voters, and then say the opposite to curry favor with other voters. Of course, this is a typical politician's maneuver.

My initial reason for this post was that I feel it is indicative of the fear that a certain segment of the population of the U.S. seems to have against foreign language and culture seeping further into Anglo America, and the Republican party seizing on that fear.

The answer to all this is to chuck The Star-Spangled Banner and make Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land the national anthem.

5/03/2006 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Speaking for myself, my "bigotry" comment had nothing to do with the reaction to the new version. Bush said that the anthem should be sung in English. While the new version may have been the catalyst for that comment, he was clearly not referring to the new version specifically, but the anthem in general. So I don't think the fact that the song was rewritten has anything to do with the point I made.

That said, I don't understand the uproar over the new version anyway. So some folks took the melody and made a new song. That's their call ... I, uh, don't think any copyright issues are at stake or anything. It seems to me that the Brits have long gotten over our misappropriation of their anthem for "My Country 'Tis of Thee", so if someone wants to sing a new song to the melody of ours, more power to 'em. Why is this the least bit upsetting to anyone?

5/03/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Bush supporters are upset because Fox news, right wing radio, and the Bush administration are telling them to be. Support for Bush is purely faith based, cultish even. It can only be, because all the facts show that he is a terrible president who has horribly botched anything he's ever tried to do.

Here's what scares me. Often, these fake issues that the administration likes to invent are an attempt at taking our attention away from issues that are actually important. I am terrified that right now we are simply being distracted from their attempts to start World War III in Iran.

5/03/2006 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I always thought "My Country 'Tis of Thee" must have been the work of a horrible hack. I've always hated that song, well, at least hated it since I realized it was a bastardization of "God Save the King/Queen." No wonder the lyrics flow so poorly.

I don't think Americans have that much fear of foreign culture. The wave (called the Mexican wave in many other places), the Macarena, the tango, Cinco de Mayo, I could go on and on (and that's just Hispanic culture). No one I know has a problem with any of that. And I love it when I go to Miami and the locals there effortlessly flit back and forth between completely fluent Spanish and completely fluent English. It's exhilarating.

American culture has always been very adept at absorbing aspects of foreign cultures. What people fear now is really something quite different I think, and to call that xenophobia is a gross exaggeration and belittles what is a real problem.

I live in a part of the country that has seen explosive growth in its Hispanic minority over the past 15 years. The county I live in is the most diverse metro area in the state, with (2000 figures) 50% white, 40% black, 10% Hispanic, and 5% Asian population, with the Hispanic portion going from something close to 0 to 10% during the '90's--I wish I could find more current estimates, since the perception is that the ethnic breakdown is rapidly approaching 40-30-20-5. We've never seen anything like this here. People living in areas with less dramatic growth in their immigrant population may wonder what all the fuss is about. It can be tough to get used to, and I think calling it xenophobia is very unfair.

Personally I thought it was great when an influx of immigrants would take over a decaying rural mill town and reinvigorate it. Some of the best Mexican food I've had outside Mexico was in Siler City, NC.

But as things start changing closer to home, it can become more worrisome.

Here's an example: there was an establishment I used to frequent quite frequently in the '90's. The staff was made up of mostly older people, many of them like one guy I knew who was a retired adding machine salesman who didn't have a pension and couldn't live on Social Security. I got to know the people who worked there. Then one day in the late '90's the entire staff was replaced by Hispanic people who could understand me mostly but didn't speak English. And though I then went there less often, I noticed that the staff also had a pretty high turnover rate. My Paraguayan friend tells me that they're all illegals. Repeat this situation at an accelerating rate across town.

What happened to the people who used to work there? Who is taking care of them now? And how much less are the new employees being paid?

And who was it exactly that turned on the floodgates for the illegal immigrants? There's a feeling that this country is being remade without the people having had any say in it (other than the people who benefit from a new under-underclass), and it's too late to do anything about it. Is it wrong to fear that? Or am I just a xenophobe?

5/03/2006 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

People living in areas with less dramatic growth in their immigrant population may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Well, come on, though. I grew up in Florida and live in Dallas. Chris lives in San Antonio. I can't imagine that Durham is going through anything that we haven't been experiencing since, uh, forever.

To be perfectly frank, you do sound like somewhat of a xenophobe. You say that you love visiting places of Hispanic culture. You love it when they settle in towns that you don't live in. But when they get "closer to home" - your words - you have a problem.

If I'm taking this in the wrong way, please let me know.

5/03/2006 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I can't imagine that Durham is going through anything that we haven't been experiencing since, uh, forever.

NC had the largest percent increase in Hispanic population in the '90's. I don't think you can make any comparison to Florida or Texas, which have had significant Hispanic populations since, uh, forever (sorry) or at least the last several hundred years?

So maybe I am a xenophobe, but I was trying to express that my problem, which I cannot see from a distance, is when I see one group of people being displaced so that another new group can be exploited. So that's xenophobia? It's not okay to be feeling that some injustice is being committed? That society is being weakened in the name of greed?

5/03/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

But what difference does "percent increase" make? The whole point is having to constantly adjust to different people and cultures than your own, and that's what people here (on all sides) have to do all the time. So NC is relatively new to this, when it comes to Hispanics ... welcome to the party. You're not any different just because you're only facing it now.

It's not okay to be feeling that some injustice is being committed?

Well, of course there is. It's not like I'm in favor of people being displaced and/or exploited. But injustice being committed by whom? The people singing the new Spanish version of the national anthem? I think not.

5/03/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

You're not any different just because you're only facing it now.

But yes we are. I'm not talking about dealing with different people and cultures, I'm talking about dealing with change--when was the last time Texas or Florida saw a 400% increase in a particular ethnic population in a ten-year span? In Durham the growth rate was over 700%. That is a very big change, it doesn't seem to be abating (though it can't possibly not be at that rate), and completely unprecedented in recent history.

And a lot of this change probably isn't even from immigrants, and it's probably a small minority of immigrants who are illegal, but when there is seemingly little enforcement of immigration laws among the same population that is rapidly increasing, it creates a growing perception of there being a problem.

That's what I'm trying to explain here--can't this kind of seemingly out-of-control change, particularly with the associated economic displacement and the legal issues, naturally cause apprehension without being branded xenophobic? Come on!

And no, I'm not accusing the composers of "Nuestro Himno" of any injustice at all, though if pressed I might object to using the national anthem to make a political point. It's certainly not as bad as trying to use a ban on flag burning to curry political favor.

5/03/2006 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

But here's my question: apprehension of what, exactly?

My objection has nothing to do with apprehension of "economic displacement". Economies rise and fall and change, and naturally people are affected by that. There's nothing xenophobic about worrying about one's livelihood.

But I sense that there's a lot of conflation between economic (non-xenophobic) and cultural (pretty much the very definition of xenophobic) issues, which has been brought to the forefront with this whole anthem flap. It's very important that we don't confuse them, because they're simply not the same thing.

5/03/2006 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I don't think I'm xenophobic, which is why I've gotten all huffy about feeling like my concerns over immigration etc. may have lumped me in with the xenophobes.

But let me further explain the apprehension, at least the way it looks from here. In the '70's, '80's, and '90's employers around here didn't have anyone to really dick around, except maybe high school students, and you can't hire high school students to do everything. Before that employers could dick around black people.

What we are seeing (here) is a return to the pre-civil rights South, with blacks replaced by Hispanics. And no one is doing anything to stop it. In fact The Man seems gleeful about it.

And with the oppressed minority separated by language and having their own media, not to mention possibly here illegally and afraid to complain if their employer takes kickbacks from their pay, is anyone going to care until they aren't the minority? And what kind of upheaval is going to happen then?

I guess if I'm a xenophobe because of all this, I should probably work harder at it and stop listening to La Ley (the only full-power commercial FM Spanish station between NY and Miami, and the only commerical FM station I ever listen to because the ads don't annoy me) or occasionally watching Nuestro Barrio (a Spanish soap opera shot in Durham that has employed a family member as an extra). Probably shouldn't go to La Fiesta del Pueblo at the fairgrounds this year, either.... :-(

I guess I'm also a bit miffed that I didn't take Spanish in high school. If only I had known--I didn't take it because I thought it was too easy and that was the language all the slackers signed up for. I had to be weird and take German. :-/

5/03/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I understand about people worrying about having their jobs displaced. The problem, though, is not with the immigrants. As I said before, it is with the employers who hire them just so they can pay lower wages. If there were equal compensation between illegal and legal workers, then everyone would have an equal opportunity to get the job.

I come from a city that is almost 59% hispanic, so of course I have a different persective than someone from North Carolina.

My problem is with punishing the immigrants. You can't just round all of them up and ship em out or stuff them into our overcrowded prisons; that is impractical. I don't really have a problem with building a wall, but people will find a way to get past the wall. Increasing border security is a given, but unfortunately our law enforcement agencies are underfunded. You can't do any of this without A LOT of money, money comes from taxes, and the very people who want immigration laws toughened don't want to pay higher taxes. The only thing that makes sense is to increase punishment of employers that hire illegals, and that will never happen with an administration that is as soft on Business as this one.

5/04/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Hear! Hear! I completely agree with Chris.

5/04/2006 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Well, so do I. Makes me wonder just what we've been arguing about. If only you'd made it more clear that it's not the immigrants themselves you had problems with....

5/04/2006 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I never meant to imply that I had a problem with the immigrants themselves. I thought what we were arguing about was whether people can have fears associated with immigrants and not be xenophobic. I think they can.

Anyway, I hope Nic is happy, though I never saw the request that the Count referenced above....

5/04/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I did think that your "closer to home" post sounded xenphobic. It's clear that I thought wrong, and I'm glad you clraified and that we got everything cleared up. I'm also glad that it turns out we're mostly on the same page.

As for Nic, he's been conspicuously silent, eh? He checks in with pretty good frequency, unless we somehow have a lot of Malmonians visiting us, but ... nothing. Usually he's eager to pontificate about US policy. I hope he still cares about us!

5/04/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

i was feisty in my earlier post and Brian successfully diffused any hope of a knee-jerk response...(and I was referring to Nic's request on the old boards about a good ol' flamewar once in awhile)

5/04/2006 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

I think i meant de-fused...... I apologize.

5/04/2006 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Sorry, lads, between studies, driving lessons, renovating my apartment for second hand rental this summer (got a summer job in Stockholm), driving lessons and going to the gym every other day - by the time I get to read what's going on in the blog my mind and body is fried. It's the whole "getting my life in order"-program that's taking its toll.

Good discussion this, though. Don't think it veered off as much as came to focus on what the issue was really about - immigration. Can't say that I have much to add, though, since I get were most people are coming from, and my experience with being and knowing immigrants are of a somewhat different nature.

But this video was a pretty smart comment. A guy I knew from high school who used to live in Mexico City sent it to me this morning.

5/05/2006 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Harrumph--the video seems to avoid all the real issues as far as I'm concerned.... Like the Pilgrims weren't a cheap source of labor for the Indian oligarchs. This discussion has made me think I want to watch Gangs of New York again, fwiw.

5/05/2006 10:05:00 AM  

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