Monday, August 16, 2010

Nuestro Himno (Spanish language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Does the thought of the English language not doing being the majority spoken language make you uncomfortable? Does the idea of Caucasians in America being a minority seem wrong? Do you think America be an inferior country if the majority of citizens were Muslim and Buddhist as opposed to Christian?

There is something weird in the air. Controversy about allowing Muslim to build their house of worship, illegal immigration suspicions in Arizona, Senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle trying to play with the Latino vote.  Let those thoughts simmer and we’ll come back to that. We’ll take a look at music as a way to examines some of our feelings about America.

During the 2006 United States immigration reform protest a group of Spanish speaking musicians to show support for Hispanic immigration. This song featured a modernized beat and a departure from the traditional musical setting of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

There is a Code, approved by Congress that defines the way that our national anthem should always be performed.  This code outlines the appropriate times to perform this song, the key and the specific tempo in which to perform this song.

According to the code very few people every perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” the “correct” way. If you want to make a stand that this Spanish language version is not appropriate, that’s fine just make sure you include other variations as being inappropriate including:

Jimi Hendrix-incorrect instrumentation

Whitney Houston-incorrect meter

And my personal favorites: Igor Stravinsky-incorrect harmony (which led to a police seizure of the music)

I revel in this multiple interpretations of the national anthem. Like the beautiful multiplicity of American culture, these version reflect the people and experiences that constantly redefine what it means to be American.

I believe that the way that we react to art is a reflection of the way that we react to other things in our lives and the way we feel about “The Star-Spangled Banner” reflects the way we feel about America.

Before you start arguing for an English speaking, Christian and Caucasian ideal of America please consider the beauty in the variations in our beautiful National Anthem.  If you think that people should perform this song one way and that Americans all should be Caucasian and Christian that's fine.  You have the right to create that community, but you don't need everyone in America to be that way for you to have that experience.  

America is not defined by a language, a religion or a race, it's defined by the idea that we have the freedom to chose the way we want to live whether it's in a all prodminantly African-American community or a going to a church filed with interracial couples.  It's in embracing this freedom that we find our greatest strengths, our truest spirit and our love for America.


  1. Countries and cultures ARE defined by their language. I just had an interesting discussion this very week with the tribal elder from a B.C. area tribe about the very thing of watching their language disappear to English. The transition to English for them was forced and aggressive. How many people speak Navaho or Cherokee any more? Do Chinese speak Vietnamese? No. A country or people is defined, in large part, by the way they communicate with one another. In America, you can come and be a part of this great melting pot brought together by principles, not race. You can BE any religion, it doesn't matter. You can BE multiple races, it also doesn't matter. But we have to be able to communicate. I don't care if you're multilingual. I'm multilingual, but you have to be willing to speak the common language that we use to communicate and thrive as a people. In this country that established language is English. The people that argue in the current immigration debate are foolish because the fear that is there, that has been there for centuries, is that they don't want to become American citizens (which means PART of our culture, which includes English), but supplant and take over our culture. Coming out waving flags of foreign nations and changing the elements of our culture (the Star Spangled banner), to fit the language of your culture shows aggression, not an interest to belong. It's naive to assume everyone that has a problem with something like this is a xenophone, it couldn't be further from the truth.

  2. First off, FACT: there is no official language in the United States, English is our "de facto" majority language.

    If you want to view speaking a language from a pragmatic point of view then in certain communities in America is makes more sense to speak a language other than English.

    I personally think that someone who comes to America, has basic conversational English skills becomes a citizen and then leads the vast majority of their life never speaking a word of English is American.

    I have relatives who have done just that. They work hard, pay their taxes and raise their kids. And when they have to do things that require language skills beyond their ability there's plenty of business in China-towns that assist with just that.

    Not every immigrant group comes to America to "belong." Just like how people have the freedom to say things that things we disagree with, people have the freedom to go live out in woods by themselves and reject American mainstream culture. So why can't immigrants do the same thing?

    Keep in mind, just like how remakes of films can't hurt the original, an interpretation of a song doesn't "change it." The original still exists.

    Thanks for the comments. I know you are not a xenophobe. I realize the reason you don't like me has nothing to do the fact that I'm Asian but rather my personality.

  3. Well, now if I disliked you you're right it'd be because of you personally and not your race. I don't, however, dislike you. Relax, my man! ;)

    The overall theme of your essay here seems to suggest that those having problems with the political issues you raise have those problems because they occur outside of some homogenous Christian, Caucasian, and English-speaking land and I find that position errant. You seem to present the issues in simplistic ways that are pigdeon-holing people.

    Language: Key to culture. You may have your disagreements with me on this, but art (song and literature), commerce, daily communication and more all come into play with language. Anthropologists can easily show you examples where race can be mixed but still you have one strong cohesive culture, same with religion. Take away a common language? What do you have? Yes, it's possible to live in the U.S. and never learn the language but it's foolish. You come to live outside of the culture you've joined. I can't dream of moving to another country just to isolate myself. You're right in that it can be done, but all you're doing is moving yourself and your culture somewhere else and creating a prison for yourself by refusing to grow and experience or learn the culture you've joined.

    We don't have an "official" English language, you're right. We should change that. Because some areas speak another language predominantly should we just cede those parts of the country and let them become another country? Should everyone learn 3-4 languages just to do business? How will the administration of justice and civil/criminal law be processed? If we're all to live together in a polite society we have to have rules and language is the most basic of those.

    To answer your question on the majority muslim question, yes it would be an inferior country. Can you show me a country that is majority Muslim that is NOT a theocracy? Can you show me one with women's rights like ours or gay rights of any kind? I haven't found it and i've been reading. Our country is majority Christian, but it's not a theocracy, find a Muslim country that's like that.

    This version of this song came out at a time that people were waving Mexican flags at immigration rallys. If you want to be in America and immigrate here to be an American citizen, why glorify the culture which you are fleeing and refuse to become a part of the culture to which you are applying for citizenship? Why not sing it in English?

    I say all this as a non-Christian, non-Caucasian (since WASPs strongly dislike at least 3 of my ethnic heritages), but English/German speaker who has no desire to learn the language of the conquistadors just to live in the culture that is the one of his birth.

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