Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Singing in Tongues: George Bush and the National Anthem

What an opportunity President George Bush has missed in insisting that all Americans should sing their national anthem only in English. The Hispanics are not asking for their own anthem but the newly released Spanish version of the American anthem, ‘Nuestro Himno’, seems too closely aligned to the mounting immigrants’ rights movement.

My spine tingles when I hear the South African and New Zealand anthems sung in the indigenous languages of those countries. It adds a depth, a richness and it is an audible tribute to the history of those nations.

To give the President credit, George Bush grew up in Texas with students of Mexican descent and he does give speeches in the Spanish language. But in this response he is promoting a monochrome society that blurs differences in a cultural melting pot.

Have a listen [see web reference below] to the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. There are a few freedoms taken with the words but you can imagine how good it would be to hear Americans of different cultures singing it with Spanish passion and stridency to the accompaniment of guitars and castanets.

It is easy for us to settle with the ‘teabags policy’. This is the promotion of the idea that everyone can and should drink the same tea, preferably from the ubiquitous Lipton’s tea bag. This fails to appreciate the aromas, the tastes and the colours that come from tea grown in different parts of the world.

George should take a leaf out of the journal of another world leader, Charles V, King of Spain (1500-1558) who wrote:

“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.” Even back in the sixteenth century it seems there was an enlightened approach to the different contributions that language and culture can make to a community and a nation.

Like an effective sports coach it is essential to get to know both the strengths and the weaknesses of each culture and to position them accordingly. This idea is hinted at in a poster found in Switzerland that declares:

a French chef,
a German engineer,
an Italian lover
and everything organized by the Swiss.

an English chef,
a German police officer,
a French engineer,
a Swiss lover
and everything organized by an Italian.

Cultural appreciation is also vital in matters of faith. Highlighting the various forms of Christian expression someone said:

The English love the Gospel because it gives them something to talk about.
The Welsh love the Gospel because it gives them something to sing about.
The Irish love the Gospel because it gives them something to fight about.
The Scots love the Gospel because it gives them something for nothing!

Affirming our language and appreciating our unique cultural gifts is one of the first steps in building a community.

Geoff Pound

Source: This posting was triggered by the article in the New York Times, ‘Bush Enters Anthem Fight on Language’, by Jim Rutenberg, 29 April, 2006.

Address of Audio Version of the American National Anthem:

Image: El Presidente