If you have a TV, well let’s face it, if you’re an American, you saw Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial. Besides being another marketing hit for Coca-Cola (think about how much free advertising they are getting from everybody writing and talking about the commercial), Coca-Cola’s commercial is also a short and concise ideological and nationalistic answer to the ever evolving question of “Who is an American and what makes them an American?” Obviously, regardless of if we are talking about the Irish in the 19th century, the Jews and Italians of the early 20th century, or Hispanics of late any answer to this question will be controversial.
First off, let’s do away with the easy hit against the Coca-Cola commercial that you are reading about online and hearing on Fox News. You might disagree with the idea of gays raising children. You might even disagree with gays having the right to marry and love one another. But get over it. There are plenty of things that people do in America that we can all take issue with. There are a lot of things that people do that are completely against my up-bringing, but it isn’t ruining my family nor is it ruining my values. The one beauty of America, the singular American characteristic that pervades our entire national identity, is the right to be an individual. As long as safety and reasonable peace of mind is assured, your right to your beliefs and how you want to raise your family is no more or less sacred than my beliefs and how I want to raise my family. Live and let live has always been a great American mantra.
But let’s move on to the more important question. I have to admit, I approach America the Beautiful in the same way that many opera aficionados approach La bohème, it was written in Italian therefore it should be sung in Italian. Language is an important part of what makes up a national identity. So at the end of the day, that is the question for us to consider. Does language, specifically English, make us American. Is English as innately a part of our national identity as it is for the English?
Many of us go back to our founders for answers on what it means to be American. Yet, it was not as if no other language was spoken in the colonies besides English. (It’s called Pennsylvania Dutch Country for a reason.) Why didn’t our founders make English the official language of America?
Therefore what is it that makes us American? Simply put, it’s our dreams that make us Americans. Some people might term it the “American Dream”, but I believe that the true dream that unites all Americans is something bigger than the house with a white picket fence. It is the dream that we can be bigger than ourselves, that we can accomplish what we set our sights on. Some derisively call this feeling American exceptionalism or the naiveté of a young nation without an historic culture. I think this belief is the part of our identity that drives us to be better, that drives our belief that America can be a shining beacon on the hill for the world.
So maybe, Coca-Cola’s expression of America the Beautiful was simply that, expressing America’s beauty in the multitude of languages which are spoken across our great country. Language itself is only a means of communicating an idea, and if that idea is the same across languages, does it really matter if it’s said in its original tongue?
Maybe at the end of the day, Americans aren’t meant to be like opera aficionados. We’re meant to be something else. We’re meant to be a people that embrace change. We’re meant to be a people that embrace what is good in other cultures. We’re meant to be a people who can enjoy a great song, regardless of the language, as long as we understand its meaning. Maybe, that’s why at the end of the day, I loved Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial and why I think Les Misérables 10th Anniversary Concert’s rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing” is just as good as it is when sung only in English.