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Ain't that America?

By Rich Heldenfels Published: February 3, 2014

One of the more illuminating, and ludicrous, discussions to come out of Sunday's Super Bowl was the online debate about the Coca-Cola commercial above. A celebration of our nation's diversity, including through parts of "America the Beautiful" sung in different languages, was instead treated as an insult by people who believe that the song should only be in English. See one of the many reports about the issue here.

It may also have fanned some flames that the ad included a gay family, which GLAAD called a first for the Super Bowl. But the problem here, and in the culture at large, is that so many people are eager to feel embattled and angry any time there's a suggestion that the idea of being American can include many languages, ethnicities and types of families. There is still this belief in some circles that America shold be narrowly defined -- even though, from its beginnings, it has been made up of different people and languages. (Note how many places in New York have Dutch names, for instance. Should we change those, too?)

As I asked my students this morning when we discussed the issue, how many different languages might you hear when walking across an American college campus? How often do you dial a service, and the voice mail asks if you want to speak in English or Spanish?

Don't many Hawaiians have their own spoken language, which is part of a  heritage that predates their being brought into America? Can't their America be just as beautiful when song about in their ancestors' tongue?

Americans are very good at usurping others' culture. Would the same people who insist that "America the Beautiful" be sung in English demand that Elvis Presley's "It's Nor or Never' be rejected because it's putting an English lyric to the Italian song "O Sole Mio"?

I know, you're going to say that's not a patriotic song. But what could be more patriotic than honor paid to all the people who make up America by showing how we all share the idea that this country is indeed beautiful. Those who cried foul about the song most certainly are not.

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