Monday, February 3, 2014

America Is Beautiful When America Embraces Diversity (Mainly in English)

I would like to state my two main points right up front.

Main point #1: I believe that all people living in these United States of America should learn to speak American, by which I mean, of course, our particular version(s) of English.

Main point #2: I believe that America is truly beautiful when we gladly embrace our diversity.

I am thinking about this because of—what else?—a Super Bowl commercial; this is America, after all. The commercial for Coca-Cola (“Coke” to its close friends) has, as you probably know, caused something of a kerfuffle (notice how I snuck in an English word that is mainly used in Great Britain to make a subtle point), at least in the Twitter-verse, a community in which many of us hold dual citizenship along with our American citizenship and whose truncated, abbreviated, hashtag-driven language we have had to learn in order to communicate clearly and irritate successfully.

When in Twitter-land, speak as the Twitter-dwellers speak.

I really do think that people living in the U.S.A. should learn to speak English. I think they should want to learn to speak English. My approach to this is admittedly simple: were I to move to Lithuania tomorrow I would start learning Lithuanian tomorrow because I would want to be able to converse with my new friends and neighbors and I would want to be able to conduct my business as smoothly as possible. However, I would not abandon my Southern dialect of American English because I appreciate my roots and my heritage. Even if I became a citizen of Lithuania I would likely continue to speak English at home because I would always be most at home with English.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 20% of Americans—around 60 million of us—don’t speak English at home; about two-thirds of those speak Spanish. And the percentage of Americans who don’t speak English at home has been rising; it was about 18% in 2000.

As I say, it seems to me that if someone lives in an English-speaking country, it is to their benefit to learn to speak the dominant language. Besides, there is national unity and strength to be found in a common language.

But there is also national unity and strength to be found in an open-minded and open-hearted embrace of the many and diverse cultures that exist in the United States. Indeed, I believe that the many cultures in our midst should be celebrated.

That brings me back to the Coke commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. The ad featured shots of Americans from many different national backgrounds with “America the Beautiful” being sung in eight different languages: English, Tagalog (a major language of the Philippines), Hindi, Sengalese, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres (a Pueblo language), and Arabic. I found it a very moving sixty second film on the beauty of the American melting pot and a nice visual representation of our de facto pre-1956 national motto of E Pluribus Unum (that’s Latin, y’all!). It also made me want to go buy a Coke.

Some folks have a different opinion than I do on this “issue,” which is fine, this being America and all. Hate is not fine, though, and some people’s comments have crossed that line, to their and our shame. Some commenters have opined that “America the Beautiful” should be sung only in English; I will avoid comment on those poor misguided and misinformed citizens who said after viewing the commercial that the National Anthem should only be sung in English, except to note that (1) “America the Beautiful” is not the National Anthem and (2) as I heard Chuck Todd say during a discussion of this matter, it should be.

By the way, you can go to YouTube and watch videos of the young ladies recording “America the Beautiful” in each of those non-English languages that are all spoken in households here in the U.S.A. Those videos also include the singers talking—in excellent English—about what singing that great celebration of America in their family’s native tongue meant to them.

In the book of Acts we read of the Holy Spirit falling on the earliest followers of Jesus in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost; when the Spirit came upon them, they were able to speak in foreign tongues which enabled the pilgrims who had come to the festival from all over the Mediterranean world to hear the good news of Jesus proclaimed in their own language. I know that America is not the church and that the Holy Spirit is not inspiring those in our nation who speak different languages to speak those languages. Still, there is this parallel: like the early Church included and the present Church includes people who come from many different cultures and who speak many different languages, America at her best not only tolerates but celebrates the many different languages and cultures that are present among us.

At the beginning of the Muppet Vision 3D show at Disney World, Sam the Eagle introduces the show as “A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America.” Here in America, let’s speak all of our languages gladly and proudly.

But mostly English …

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Just about nailed it. :-)