Saturday, August 1, 2009

Oh say, can you see?

I receievd an email today, forwarded who knows how many times. It contained a picture of the Statue of Libery photoshopped to overlook a freeway, with photoshopped highway signs. One pointed the way to "Welfare Dept," "Social Security," and "Free Medical." The other announced "Entering Meximerica." [I have reduced the photo's resolution so it cannot be used for its intended purpose.]

The original author of the email then provided commentary: "No apology for sending this! After hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Spanish - enough is enough. Nowhere did they sing it in Italian, Polish, Irish (Celtic), German or any other language because of immigration." It goes on to decry Spanish versions of the Star Spangled Banner. And it is followed by other comments claiming the author has nothing against immigration, but that immigration today is not like it was in the good old days, presumably when their ancestors came.

But the original author gets their facts wrong. Ignorance and untruth have always been allies of bigotry.

For an example, please see the 1861 version of "Das star-spangled banner," H. De Marsan Publisher, No. 54 Chatham Street, New York (from the Library of Congress website.)

Every immigrant group has struggled with issues of "keeping faith" with their heritage and assimilation into an American identity. In fact, the Germans provide an example of a group which maintained strong German-American communities, ethnic civic organization, ties to the homeland, and German in place of or alongside English over many years. It was the pressure of WWI-era persecution and the desire to demonstrate American patriotism that is the most critical event in ending German-ness in favor of a more assimilated English-speaking American identity.

While Spanish-speaking imigrants are the primary focus of anti-immigrant racism today, Spanish has been an American language since well before the founding of the United States of America. Recall the Spanish settlements in Florida and the US Southwest, and its influence over the southern portion of the Louisiana Territory. Spanish is a US language also through conquest, when Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the US following the Spanish American War, and it has been a language of our colonial territories in Panama and the Philippines.

For a look at some of the Spanish translation issues with the Star-Spangled Banner, and a video of the "controversial" version mentioned in the original opinion piece, see Translation of the US National Anthem.


In my opinion, it is a patriotic statement of love for America, which at its best has always welcomed those seeking freedom, justice, and the opportunity to live in peace. The America I learned about in school, and the one which I love, is about the constitutional practice of freedom and justice, and a shared vision of responsibility to those values. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

Though the language was English, it was never about the language, but about those universal values which are just as true in Spanish, Hindi, Russian, and Arabic. I often wish that those of us who are US citizens by accident of birth would know that as well as those who have chosen to come here, just as our ancestors did, to seek the golden door of freedom.