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News :: Human Rights
29 Apr 2006
April 29, 2006


"One of the important things here is that we not lose our national soul," George Bush

John Chuckman

Was George Bush speaking of some truly shattering event in American affairs? Perhaps the imprisonment and torture of thousands of innocent people? Perhaps the lack of democratic legitimacy in his own coming to power?

No, what Bush was describing is a version of the American national anthem in Spanish - Nuestro Himno (Our Anthem) - which was played on American Hispanic radio and television stations recently.

Now, in many countries with multi-ethnic populations, most people would see this as charming and flattering. Canada's anthem has two official versions, French and English, and were a group of immigrants to offer it in Ukrainian or Mandarin, most Canadians would be tickled. It would undoubtedly be featured on CBC.

But in America, the broadcast of a Spanish version of The Star Spangled Banner has aroused a somewhat different response. Charles Key, great great grandson of Francis Scott, offered the immortal words, "I think it's despicable thing that someone is going into our society from another country and … changing our national anthem."

"This is evoking spirited revulsion on the part of fair-minded Americans," offered John Teeley, representative of one of innumerable private propaganda mills in Washington commonly dignified as think-tanks. Mr. Teeley continued, "You are talking about something sacred and iconic in the American culture. Just as we wouldn't expect people to change the colors of the national flag, we wouldn't expect people to fundamentally change the anthem and rewrite it in a foreign language."

A foreign language? There are roughly thirty-million Spanish speakers in the United States. The analysis here is interesting: an immigrant singing an anthem in his own language resembles someone changing the national flag. This argument does, perhaps unintentionally, reveal the real concern: Hispanics are changing our country, and we don't like it.

So it is not surprising that the American low-life constituency's political and moral hero, George Bush, should declare: "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and 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."

Never mind that the American Constitution says nothing about language. Never mind that waves of immigrants from Europe about a hundred years ago founded countless private schools and cultural institutions in the United States where German or Italian or Hebrew were the languages used and promoted. Never mind that after a generation or two, minority immigrants always end up adopting the language of the majority, something which is close to an economic necessity. And never mind that xenophobia in a land of immigrants should have no place.

An entertaining historical note here is that Francis Scott Key did not write the important part of The Star Spangled Banner, its music. Key wrote a breast-swelling amateurish poem whose words were fitted to an existing song. The existing song, as few Americans know, was an English song, To Anachreon in Heaven, a reference to a Greek poet whose works concern amour and wine. The Star Spangled Banner, in any version, only began playing a really prominent role in America during my lifetime, that is, with the onset of the Cold War. In Chicago public schools during the early 1950s, we sang My Country, 'Tis of Thee, another breast-sweller, written not many years after Key's, by another amateur poet, Samuel Smith, sung to the music of the British national anthem, God Save the King.

It shouldn't be necessary to remind anyone in an advanced country that things change, and they change at increasing rates. Even in the remote possibility, a century or two from now, Spanish or some blend of Spanish and English were to become the dominant language of the United States, what would it matter to today's angry and intolerant people? After all, the English language came from another land, and it grew out of centuries of change from Latin to early versions of German and French layered onto the language of Celtic people.

Throughout history, fascism is closely associated with xenophobia, but then we find many other unpleasant aspects of fascism - from illegal spying to recording what people read in libraries, from torture to illegal invasion - feature in George Bush's America.

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It's a mix of things...
29 Apr 2006
No doubt there is a good dose of xenophobia going around some quarters, but I think its not just about that. Some of it is about the ruling class' use of undocumented workers to keep wages down. Some of it is about bewilderment over the failure of new immigrants to assimilate into the greater society. This is not something seen much in Boston where the number of Latin immigrants is very small, but in places such as Miami, parts of Arizona, parts of Texas, parts of Nevada and parts of California, Spanish has become the dominant language.

One might be tempted to believe that this should not matter, but the new immigrants who refuse to learn English often discriminate against Americans in work. For example, one of the fast growing parts of the country in terms of small businesses is South Florida. The vast majority of these new businesses are owned by Cubans. Discrimination against non-Cubans has been blatant and it effects not only whites, but Central Americans and South Americans as well. If you're not Cuban, many businesses will not hire you. Often they use the excuse that the applicant can't speak Spanish. However, when the applicant tells them that they can speak Spanish, some other reason is invented. I know Centeral Americans who have gone into places like Sears, Ross, and other retailers only to be looked over from head to foot by the Cuban-American staffing the desk and then receive the reply "We just ran out of applications." They don't tell you whether their copying machines just happened to run out of paper at the same time they ran out of applications.

Nothing happens about this because, though a majority in the Miami area, Cubans are still a minority nationally. The courts look at Cubans as a protected group which leaves them, more or less, free to disciminate against everyone else (other latins, Blacks, whites, and so on).

This kind of behavior causes anger amongst many. My point is that there are many reasons outside of Xenophobia that drive these issues, while I acknowledged that Xenophobia is one cause.

The problem isn't so simple that mere legislation can fix it. It's much deeper and I'm not really sure what will make it better.
Make English the Official Language
29 Apr 2006
do these idiot spanish singers have any idea what the Star Spangled Banner is about? Do they care? No. the banner celebrates a military victory against British aggression. So the moron singers eliminate the references to the US national liberation struggle. the war of 1812 was simply the final stage of the American Revolution, (or maybe the Civil War was). In any event, it was England's last effort to regain the colonies. People from the centralized regimes of Latin American that was dominated by royalist and Catholic Church big government anti-individual philosophy have no clue to the concept of LIMITED government America stands for. America promises no one the "right" to a living or to welfare in its Constitution. But the media plays up these dumb singers as if they are the Founding Fathers in Spanish.

Disgusting! Go "Bombs Bursting In Air". On Caracas, Havana and Mexico City!
29 Apr 2006
Funny...this article mentions nothing to the fact that approx 30 states have laws or amendments stating that English is the state's official language.

I also don't think this article catches the true sentiment of concerned Americans. Most are not worried about a changing America, they are worried that non-citizens are trying to change America. This Spanish version of the national anthem comes out when many are tense about the illegal immigrant invasion of America that is taking place. It's true, people singing a song to show how much they love America is a grand idea. Wouldn't it even be all the more showing if they actually learned the language used by the majority and sang it WITH us, instead of seperating themselves from the many citizens that can't sing in Spanish?
Laws making English the official language of any state are probably unconstitutional.
29 Apr 2006
Choice of language is a First Amendment issue. It would take a Constitutional Amendment to permit states to make English an official language. Personally, I am against having an official language. However, I respect people more when they show enough respect for those around them to learn to speak those languages most common where they live. I include in that criticism Americans who do not bother to learn Spanish when they live amoungst large numbers of Spanish speaking people. Likewise, I include criticism of Spanish speaking immigrants who choose to live in the United States.

I once went to live in Latin American for a period of time and I put a couple of years effort into learning Spanish before moving there. I expect the same in reverse from those who come to live in the U.S.
30 Apr 2006
Actually, you are incorrect. Choice of language to speak in your private life may be a constitutional right, but choice of language in government or politics id not.
30 Apr 2006
None of this is new, they banned German from being spoken in the past. As far as what language to speak in government, the US has NO official language. It really is not a big deal though. As history shows us immigrants will change the language they speak out of economic necessity. Using the government to do it is so socialist.