Being American doesn’t mean “speaking American”

With the Coca-Cola building as a shining beacon in the Atlanta skyline from my window, it is hard for me to forget about the company’s moving, now controversial advertisement from the Super Bowl last Sunday night. The advertisement features a beautiful compilation of everyday Americans experiencing joyful lives in all corners of America, paired with a just as beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

This unique arrangement features seven different languages, including two of the top three most spoken non-English languages in the U.S.: Spanish and Tagalog. Seconds after the ad aired, people took to social media, concurrently praising and denouncing  it. The latter, more out-spoken party was outraged that a patriotic American song had been sung in languages other than English.

Surely, much of this xenophobic commentary can be attributed to knee-jerk reactions of cultural defense. However, many tenacious commentators demonstrate that many people in the U.S. genuinely believe that songs about America are obliged to be sung in English, and any divergence is disrespectful. This begs the question of how these so-called patriotic Americans believe that English, or “American” as some have called it, is the only language of the U.S.

They forget the U.S. proudly remains one of the few countries in the world without an official language, coinciding with the idea that America is a melting pot of immigrants who import their native tongues and cultures. According to a 2011 government report examining language use in this country, over 60.5 million Americans speak a language other than English at home.

Of course, “America the Beautiful” is a patriotic song about your America, the one filled with those who have descended from generations of English-only speakers. However, this is also my America. The one that belongs to the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, born in Flushing, Queens, New York, whose first language was not English, but actually Mandarin Chinese, a language that I spoke every day until I left home for college.  A language I spoke while celebrating the 4th of July annually with family and friends and sold Girl Scout cookies at Chinese School with. Yet, my America? It’s the same as yours and everyone who lives in this wonderful nation. A nation of people who do not just speak English, but all the languages featured in the commercial, and many more.

As comments defending and supporting the advertisement in question largely outnumber the criticisms,  I would like to believe that many of those who feel strongly about speaking “American” are aberrations of the general opinion and will eventually embrace the more accepting outlook. A reminder that speaking a language other than English does not lessen their patriotism.