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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Oh say, why can’t we sing in Spanish?”

    Lori Foleycolumnist
    Lori Foley

    I watched in horror as Ashlee Simpson performed at the Orange Bowl a few years ago. As she strutted about onstage doing something that was approximately like singing but somehow made me want to retch a lot more, I thought to myself, “”The nation won’t stand for someone destroying music like this. There’s going to be backlash.”” But weirdly enough, there wasn’t. I sure complained a lot. But apparently, the rest of America was saving up its music-related ire for this week.

    A new version of the Star-Spangled Banner hit the airwaves Friday. Nuestro Himno – or “”Our Hymn”” – sung by a Latino all-star ensemble including Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Puerto Ricans Carlos Ponce and Olga has apparently struck a nerve, inciting impassioned speeches by politicians and talk radio hosts.

    The song is admittedly far from perfect, with cheesy, overdone background instrumentals and vocalists’ occasionally overwrought embellishments. However, these don’t seem to be the issues making people so upset.

    Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., plans on issuing a resolution today intended to express support for the national anthem being sung only in its original English. In a press conference Friday when President Bush was asked for his thoughts on the song, he answered, “”I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.””

    Bush’s response seems to miss the point. Singing the national anthem in Spanish isn’t about refusing to learn English. It’s about expressing something very sacred in a way that’s in tune with one’s cultural background. Continuing to speak Spanish does not mean that the singers – or anyone else, for that matter – are snubbing English. Wanting to express patriotism in one’s first language and learning the majority language of a country certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.

    There’s something else at play here. Popular culture and politics in America have maintained a schizophrenic adherence to monolingualism at the national level while embracing and encouraging diversity on a personal level. These clashing impulses were bound to conflict at some point, and this nontraditional expression of patriotic sentiment has created the perfect storm.

    But this fight isn’t just about language in general. No one is holding protests over the fact that our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, is in (gasp!) Latin. The anger comes from the fact that people see the anthem being sung in Spanish as some sort of rebellion against that oh-so-nebulous concept of “”American tradition.””

    It seems like some widely held – and incorrect – beliefs about Spanish speakers in the U.S. are playing a large role below the surface in this public debate. Somehow, the idea that Latino immigrants learn English at a slower rate or are more likely to reject English than other immigrants has been accepted by a fair number of people, and many have been quick to point to this rendition of the national anthem as an example of such a “”refusal.””

    However, the same studies that show the disheartening prevalence of this misconception also show that the English language acquisition rate among Hispanic immigrants is roughly the same, if not higher, than those of other U.S. immigrant groups.

    The idea that any immigrant group would totally reject English is pretty ridiculous. Except for in very isolated locales, new immigrants to America gravitate intensely toward the English language; it’s the key to communicating in a new society that they’ve chosen.

    Beyond general misconceptions, another reason this recording has incited so much furor is the fact that it’s going to be released on an upcoming CD as a fundraiser for various pro-immigration groups and activities. But equivocating this performance with some groups that it may benefit down the line is pretty knee-jerk. Determining an immigration policy that holds true to the American ideals of openness and fairness will require a great deal of thoughtful public debate. But the debate should then be about immigration, not a song tangentially related to it. Getting angry and speaking in veiled terms about songs and “”tradition”” doesn’t really do much for anyone.

    When all’s said and done, those who suggest that this one rendition of a song is proof that immigrants are rejecting “”American culture”” en masse or are associating the recordings only with political factions are missing the point, both factually and ideologically. The song isn’t a rejection of American culture; it’s a culturally relevant presentation of ideas about patriotism and duty to our nation that should translate into any language.

    And really, if the anthem’s only meaning derives from the fact that it’s performed in English, maybe it’s time for a new song.

    Lori Foley is a senior majoring in international studies and English. She can be reached at

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