The blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter and, no doubt, millions of email accounts just about melted down lately, thanks to a Coca-Cola commercial. Maybe America needs to hold a can of Coke up to its collective face and chill out.
If you stayed awake through the Super Bowl, you probably saw “It’s Beautiful,” a 60-second advertisement for Coca-Cola. The spot showcased a series of voices singing “America, the Beautiful” over a montage of scenes featuring a palette of races and ethnicities. Unless you’ve been a translator at the United Nations, you probably couldn’t pinpoint them all, but singers intoned the iconic love song to America in at least nine languages—English, then Spanish, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese-French, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres and Arabic.
My family and close friends know I’m sentimental. They wouldn’t be surprised to learn the commercial moved me to reverie. The voices and images illustrated the true beauty of our nation of immigrants. Yes, we occupy a vast swath of a bountiful and gorgeous continent. This land, our land, stuns and beguiles. Yet America’s beauty extends further and sinks deeper than its horizons.
It’s beautiful because people from all over the planet comprise our citizenry. Our mixture of races and perspectives has made us versatile, optimistic, strong and resilient. With few exceptions, we’re here because our ancestors chose to be here and we choose to remain.
True Americans speak English?
Paradoxically, the commercial celebrating America’s beautiful diversity ignited the Super Bowl’s hottest controversy. Within minutes—and certainly by the next morning—legions of citizens berated Coca-Cola for daring to interpret “America, the Beautiful” in any language other than English. Unfortunately, many of the responses can’t be printed on a family news site. And tweeters who wrote most of the Twitter hashtags about the commercial should wash their keypads with soap.
The consensus of criticism followed this line: This is America. True Americans speak English. How dare Coca-Cola create a commercial that features one of the country’s most historic and popular songs sung in anything other than English? Yes, everybody should love America. But if you truly love America, you’ll learn to speak English.
The funniest/saddest/just-plain-weirdest comments condemned Coca-Cola for desecrating the “national anthem” by singing it in other languages. If you’re so ignorant you think “America, the Beautiful,” and not “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is our national anthem, you really shouldn’t criticize anybody else for loving this nation. No matter what language they speak—or sing.
This would be bad enough if only out-and-out secularists and non-theists took part in bashing Coca-Cola for this commercial. You don’t expect them to possess moral compasses. So, you shouldn’t be surprised when they spout xenophobic rhetoric.
Sadly, however, many Coke critics claim to be Christian. Some of them are (gasp) Baptists. They should know better. Several reasons come readily to mind:
• As Bible-believers, we’re commanded to practice hospitality. Both the Old and New Testaments command God’s followers to welcome the stranger, include the marginalized and embrace the “least” among society.
How can people who claim to possess the love of Jesus espouse hatred and anger toward God’s creatures? Jesus died for them, just like he died for everybody. If they are unbelievers, then such vitriol drives them further from Jesus. That’s anti-evangelism. And if they do believe, then Christians are castigating Christians, which surely grieves Jesus, even as it violates God’s design.
• If we’re true to our heritage, we identify with the wanderers, dispossessed and unsettled. Our earliest spiritual forebears, the Children of Israel, wandered homeless for 40 years. Protestant Puritans crossed the Atlantic to land on these shores, seeking relief from persecution as well as liberty to practice their faith. And our direct Baptist ancestors suffered grievous persecution until the First Amendment guaranteed religious liberty.
How dare we criticize and condemn immigrants and relative newcomers whose current wandering mirrors our historic journeys? Their story is ours, expressed in a different era.
• Of all nine languages that articulated “America, the Beautiful,” only one is truly American. And it isn’t English. Yes, Keres is the native American tongue in the mix—the language of the Pueblo Indians from New Mexico. All the other eight languages are imports. Including English.
This should remind us almost all of us are immigrants. Except for those rare 100 percent Native Americans, all of us came from somewhere else. Our nation is strong because we arrived and imported our virtues and passion and perspective and will. And we came to love this land. Together.
Yes, a national discussion about language is valid and valuable. Our society would be stronger if we all could speak and understand English. But it would be exponentially weaker if—as jingoistic protesters often imply—our neighbors whose heart language is not English denigrated or lost that language.
Speech is the most reliable conduit of culture. We benefit from shared language and perspective. But we should resist English-language hegemony that amputates other cultures and cleaves families.
• We should learn from history. Often, we hear the loud proclamations of a one-language, one-culture nation. Do you recall who wanted to create a completely homogenous society? The pariah of the 20th century—Nazi Germany.
America is beautiful
America is beautiful because she stands for freedom. People who profess their love of freedom should affirm the freedom of all people. Especially those who sing about their love for America in the languages that stir their hearts.