Senator Lamar Alexander gets his panties in a twist over Spanish anthem.

Found something to shoot my mouth off about.

Well it didn’t take long before some Republican Senator decided to introduce a resolution over the Spanish version of the anthem:

“That flag and that song are a part of our history and our national identity. It declares some of our national ideals, in being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” That’s why in 1931 Congress declared the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem.

“That’s why we should always sing it in our common language, English. And that’s why today I am introducing a resolution that affirms that statements of national unity, especially the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, ought to be recited or sung in English.

“We wouldn’t recite the Pledge in French, or German, or Russian, or Hindi, or even Chinese (which, after Spanish, is the second most spoken foreign language in the United States). And we shouldn’t sing the national anthem in Spanish, or any other foreign language.

“So, in this land of immigrants, let’s all sing it together, as one American nation, in our common language: English.

My question still remains: What’s wrong with singing the anthem in another language or, for that matter, reciting the pledge in another language so long as the sentiments behind the act are sincere? Why get all fucking pissy about it when it’s not the language that’s important but the ideals being expressed?

Update: Incidentally for those of you who seem to feel that singing The Star Spangled Banner in Spanish is some sort of horrible insult you may want to consider these simple facts:

In 1919 the U.S. Bureau of Education commissioned a Spanish-language version of The Star Spangled Banner. Additionally for those folks who are all upset that the Latin pop stars had the nerve to change the lyrics (yes, I’m specifically looking at you DarO), you should be aware that the State Department’s website has no less than four different versions of the anthem in Spanish for you to be all outraged over.

Seems it wasn’t considered a big deal back in 1919. I guess they were just less patriotic back then, what with the end of World War I and all.

Hat tip to the folks at Think Progress for digging this up.

Update 2: Atrios points us to a commenter who refers to bit from Kevin Phillips’ book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush that shows us that Bush didn’t seem to mind singing the anthem in Spanish during his Presidential campaigns:

When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parites, sometimes joining in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish, sometimes partying with a “Viva Bush” mariachi band flown in from Texas.

Imagine that.

Update 3: Back to the folks at Think Progress again and a new entry on how Bush’s highly-scripted 2001 inaugural ceremony featured Jon Secada singing, what else, The Star Spangled Banner in SPANISH:

From Cox News Service, 1/18/01:

    The opening ceremony reflected that sentiment. A racially diverse string of famous and once famous performers entertained Bush, soon-to-be First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who watched on stage from a special viewing area.

    Pop star Jon Secada sang the national anthem in English and Spanish.

Apparently, Secada singing the anthem in Spanish was a regular feature of the Bush campaign. From the 8/3/00 Miami Herald:

    The nominee, his wife Laura, erstwhile rival John McCain and his wife Cindy joined Bush on a platform where children sang the national anthem – in “Spanglish,” Secada explained.

I suppose it’s OK to sing the anthem in Spanish when your pandering to the Latino community to try and drag some of their votes into your camp, but Heaven forbid those bastards try to sing it as part of a demonstration on immigration reform! But then we already knew Bush is a hypocrite.

21 thoughts on “Senator Lamar Alexander gets his panties in a twist over Spanish anthem.

  1. You can listen to Nuestro Himno and read the English translation of the lyrics at NPR. The first link is NPR’s reporting and the second link is to the song itself.

  2. Much like the efforts to ban flag-burning, here we have more legislative hypocrisy in the name of this country’s alleged freedom.

    *sigh*

  3. I, for one, support the measure. Its not that I have a problem with it being sung in Spanish or any other language, but I think that it loses some of its meaning in translation. It was written in English originally and I think that an attempt to translate it would fail ultimately. A translation of any piece of poetry or even complex prose can never merit the same respect as its source. For example, how would you translate the phrase “tiger tiger burning bright, in the forrests of the night”? Do you honestly believe that the same imagery can be simply translated? I suppose it lies with who is translating the material, but I still believe that our national anthem should remain in English. At least, officially.

  4. Silent night- for my money one of the prettirest Christmas Carols was originally written in German, but doesnt seem to have suffered.

    (Captchca- Anti)

  5. “We wouldn’t recite the Pledge in French, or German, or Russian, or Hindi, or even Chinese (which, after Spanish, is the second most spoken foreign language in the United States).”

    Chinese is a language?

  6. Just remember, The Star Spangled Banner stole its tune from another song, To Anacreon In Heaven (1780) and it hasn’t even been our national anthem for a hundred years yet. Before 1931 the national anthem was My Country Tis of Thee, which in turn was based off of God Save The Queen. If changing and appropriating lyrics is such an awful horrible thing then we should get off our lazy asses and write something NEW.

  7. I believe the issue here is the Mexicans’ and South Americans’ apparent desire to preserve their own culture in favor of that of the country they now claim to want to be a part of and be patriotic about. They say they’re Americans because they live, work, and have sex here. Yet they’re not Americans; they’re still foreigners as long as they live the same as they would in their countries of origin.

    Assimilation is good and necesary; if the hispanic population keeps itself culturally separate from the American one, only continued racism and social strife will ensue. They will always be perceived as “different”, because that’s how xenophobia works. (And I don’t think anyone can say he’s not at least somewhat of a xenophobe without disregarding national borders and very real cultural differences between countries.) The National Anthem being translated to Spanish facilitates as much, and in these times of civil unrest within the hispanic-American community, the Anthem’s translation is particularly poignant where it wasn’t in the past.

  8. Personally, I don’t care what language you sing the Star Spangled Banner in.  If you can sing it, if it makes your heart swell with pride, then by God and by golly you are an American.  Americans are too damn obsessed with Old Glory anyway.  You want to protest something?  Protest all those damn car dealerships that fly a humungous flag to show where they are located.  Patriotic, my ass.

    I would actually prefer Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” as the national anthem.  It suits most people’s voices better, encourages an altogether-ownership of this nation that I feel is sadly lacking.

  9. My Darling Les – you have missed my point. As you pointed out there already existed 4 Spanish language versions of the Star Spangled Banner commissioned in 1919 and upon translation they are as close to the American National Anthem as one can get translating English to Spanish.

    The song ‘Nuestro Himno’ is viewed by Adam Kidron (who came up with the idea for it)

    as a song that affords those immigrants that have not yet learned the English language the opportunity to fully understand the character of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, the American flag and the ideals of freedom that they represent

    (emphasis mine)

    It is NOT another Spanish version or even one that attempts to translate the National Anthem into Spanish for our immigrant Hispanic population; it is a whole new song that purports to help them fully understand our National Anthem.

    This is why I said in the earlier post has anyone seen the full lyrics and provided a link to them.  It is more a song of protest, not patriotism.

    And yes, I learned in fourth grade that Francis Scott Key did not write the music to the National Anthem, that he only wrote the words.  (take the songs ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and then sing the ABC song (the one that ends ‘now I know my ABCs what do you think of me?’ and you will realize it is the same tune different words – who cares? The discussion was about words – not music.)

    The issue here is that the words are different, they aren’t a direct translation of the National Anthem, it is a whole new song and that is fine. Just don’t run around saying it is a ‘version’ when it doesn’t even come close to the original.

    And to stop a typing war between us; let’s just agree to disagree – I have other things to research. cool smile

  10. This is a rather silly issue for anyone to get pantybunched about, but here’s my € 0.02 worth. Lamar Alexander said:

    “That’s why we should always sing it in our common language, English. And that’s why today I am introducing a resolution that affirms that statements of national unity, especially the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, ought to be recited or sung in English.”

    What I want to know is, what “ought” means here- in other words, what is the penalty for singing the national anthem in Spanish, or Klingon for that matter?  I submit that an appropriate penalty would be to sing “To Anacreon in Heaven”- all six verses.
    Neodromos said:

    I, for one, support the measure. Its not that I have a problem with it being sung in Spanish or any other language, but I think that it loses some of its meaning in translation.

    Of course it does- what doesn’t?  And War and Peace should only be read in Russian, the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, and so forth…  For a fascinating discussion of the problems and joys of translation, I highly recommend Le Ton Beau de Marot (it’s in English!) by Douglas Hofstadter.

    NeonCat says

    I would actually prefer Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land

  11. And War and Peace should only be read in Russian, the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, and so forth…

    If I knew anything about fencing I would say Zilch delivered a a speck of blood. LOL

  12. Neodromos writes…

    Its not that I have a problem with it being sung in Spanish or any other language, but I think that it loses some of its meaning in translation. It was written in English originally and I think that an attempt to translate it would fail ultimately.

    As has already been pointed out with the example of Silent Night there’s nothing that says a translation to another language is doomed to failure. The biggest barrier to a successful translation is knowledge of the originating culture’s idioms and quirks, but The Star Spangled Banner deals in some very basic and universal concepts that don’t require familiarity with the originating culture to fully understand.

    If the concepts in the song were really that difficult to translate then there’s no reason to assume that knowledge of English at the eighth grade level (reportedly the standard required for U.S. citizenship) would be sufficient to understand any better what the song means in English. You may speak the language, but that doesn’t mean you understand the culture in which case the insistence of it being sung in English because it loses something in the translation is pointless.

    Ciaervo writes…

    Assimilation is good and necesary;

    The National Anthem being translated to Spanish facilitates as much, and in these times of civil unrest within the hispanic-American community, the Anthem’s translation is particularly poignant where it wasn’t in the past.

    I don’t disagree with the idea that assimilation is a good thing, but it also shouldn’t mean having to give up all vestiges of your original culture either. We’re supposed to be this big “melting pot” where multiple cultures combine to make up America as a whole, remember? Given that the U.S. Government commissioned a Spanish version of the national anthem back in 1919 I don’t see how your argument that singing it in Spanish in any way undermines assimilation. If anything it should help facilitate it by spreading the ideals and values the song holds to more people who might not otherwise be exposed to it due to the barrier of language.

    DarO writes…

    The issue here is that the words are different, they aren’t a direct translation of the National Anthem, it is a whole new song and that is fine. Just don’t run around saying it is a ‘version’ when it doesn’t even come close to the original.

    Yes, some of the words are different and that does make it a derivative, but I disagree that it’s a whole new song. I’ve seen the lyrics and have no problem with them. Overall it pretty much says the same thing and is easily as patriotic (in my view) as the English version. You’ll note, however, that the folks behind the song aren’t trying to claim it as an exact translation and have even given it a different name “Our Anthem” in accordance with that fact.

    You’re still missing my point, however, and that’s the fact that none of the politicians getting their panties in a bunch are doing so because they have a problem with the fact that this version of the song varies from the original—neither President Bush nor Senator Alexander said anything about the differences between the two songs—they bitched about it being sung in Spanish. Which is particularly hypocritical for Bush considering his past usage of the Spanish version in his campaigns.

    And to stop a typing war between us; let’s just agree to disagree – I have other things to research.

    I’m not trying to start a war. I believe you fired the first shot in this disagreement.

    Zilch, as always, manages to nail my point succinctly.

  13. I’ll note that the piece cited in Update 3 now has a correction to indicate that it was a Spanish version of “America the Beautiful,” not “The Star Spangled Banner,” that was sung at the inauguration.  Though I suspect that would still qualify as a “statement of national unity” under Alexander’s goofy resolution.

    I’ll also note that I doubt you could get any particular song run through as a national anthem these days.  Too many nits to pick.  Aside from Guthrie’s dubious (in some quarters) political stance, saying “This land was made for you and me” sounds way too humanocentrist, crypto-religious, and pro-development for some.  “America the Beautiful” due to its explicit religious sentiments (“God shed his grace on thee”) and sexism (“crown thy good with brotherhood”).  “My Country Tis of Thee” mentions pilgrims, which is an affront to the Native American population, and “fathers” which is an affront to women.  It’s also a wussy tune.  “The Star Spangled Banner” is not only set to a drinking song, but it glorifies war and is difficult to sing.  Etc.

  14. I’ll update the entry to note your correction, ***Dave, thanks for letting me know about it. There’s also a few more interesting versions floating around that I’ll add in.

  15. The Lutheran hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was to the tune of a popular drinking song.  I mention this, not because it is relevant, but just because it is a fun bit of trivia and we are talking about songs. Anyway, Lutherans seem none the worse for it.

    At school when I was a kid in Iowa City we sang the National Anthem every day, and also switched between ‘America The Beautiful’ and Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land…’.  And recited the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts while looking at the flag.  At home we were news addicts and somehow Walter Cronkite reading the day’s Vietnam body count in the evening seemed like kind of a downer after all that.

    Good point about how you’d never get a national anthem passed today.

  16. The folks at Think Progress have updated their entry reporting that Secada did sing America the Beautiful and not the anthem after all.

    Anyhow, it turns out that The Star Spangled Banner has been translated into a number of different languages including Yiddish, French (Republicans should be OUTRAGED), German, and most recently Samoan. There’s probably even more versions out there to be found.

  17. Have any of you ever taken the time to actually read the Mexican Immigration policies? They have the absolute most racist, xenophobic and definitely strictest immigration policy in this hemisphere. I say, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The Sensenbrenner bill is a slap on the wrist compared to Mexico’s laws.

    As far as this anthem, I could care less. I’m of, partial, Spanish decent myself and it’s definitely not offensive. I’d probably say a bit, ummm, idiotic to do such a thing when tensions are so high. Kinda like the Mohamed cartoon outrage… why do something so stupid when people are already riled up?

    Anyway, I am really sick of the misinformation coming from both sides of this illegal immigration issue. Mexico definitely has no room to talk and our leaders here need to get their heads out of their collective ass and enforce our current laws. If we had secured the borders back in 1986 after that amnesty we’d probably have had a lot less issues.

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