Kudos to Coca-Cola ad for including Native voice

There is an elegant simplicity in how the song “America the Beautiful” imparts the powerful message that God has blessed the nation and its inhabitants.

It is one of the few patriotic songs that can make me stop and listen when it is performed as if the singer truly believes in the lyrics.

So when I saw Coca-Cola’s commercial featuring a rendition of “America the Beautiful” — sung in nine different languages — on Super Bowl Sunday, I stopped and listened. It was uplifting. My only comment was that I wished it had included a Native American voice. Imagine my delight when I found out that one of the languages in the ad was Keres, a Pueblo dialect, sung by Santo Domingo Pueblo teenager Christy Bird.

Before the commercial had a chance to air again, a chorus of haters chimed in. I saw tweets during Sunday night’s game that said English-only proponents were upset that other languages were used in the Coke ad. It made me think of a slogan from another ad (by the United Negro College Fund): “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The Twitter hashtag “SpeakAmerican” suddenly got traction. Besides the obvious flaw that American is not a language, I caught the irony in that hashtag moniker. The only real American languages spoken in this country are by Native Americans. And there was a native language spoken in the ad.

As a college student at Arizona State University in the mid-1980s, I wrote a research paper about the English-only movement and interviewed people of varying views on the issue. In journalism school, we are taught to write news stories with objectivity and to report the facts with as much context and depth to help the reader understand the issue. I did that. But I also came away scratching my head about how some people are threatened by other cultures. In Arizona, that was (and is) part of the reason why some people resent the increasing number of Spanish speakers in that state.

Robert MacNeil, author and former co-anchor of PBS’s the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, produced a documentary in 2005 about the diversity of dialects of English spoken in America. In a question-and-answer piece published in the Washington Post that year, MacNeil gave the following response to a question about the influence of Spanish speakers on the English language:

“Some believe that Spanish threatens the predominance of English in America and want to make English the official language of the United States by Constitutional amendment. That movement is going nowhere, but the linguists we worked with consider it unnecessary because their studies show that Hispanic immigrants are assimilating into mainstream English at the same generational rate as other immigrant groups in the past, and the latest census data seem to bear that out. But the concentrated presence of many Spanish speakers in one community can give the misleading impression that immigrants get by without learning English.”

In addition to Keres, Spanish and English, other languages featured in the “America the Beautiful” ad are Hebrew, Arabic, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese-French and Mandarin.

On Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, numerous posts were made by people who disliked the ad and some said they would quit drinking Coke because of it.

One Facebook poster identified as John Stilwell wrote this:

“I for one HATED the ad. This is America. the Super Bowl is American. The ad should be in ENGLISH. I for one give up on Coke. And since we only sell Coke at work I am pushing my boss to dump Coke for PEPSI …”

I excluded the remainder of this post because of its offensive nature.

I give the Coca-Cola company and its executives a thumbs-up for producing an inspiring ad that celebrates the rich diversity of this country. If I could, I would give them a high-five for including a Native American voice.

As for those who are upset by the ad, I suggest they take to heart the words of “America the Beautiful” — which, by the way, were written by a gay woman. I recommend pondering the line: “And crown thy good with brotherhood.”

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

-Lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.

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2 thoughts on “Kudos to Coca-Cola ad for including Native voice

  1. Katherine, thank you for being a voice for the quiet in a basically noisy culture. It is about time Native Americans had a sane, intelligent cultural translator in mainstream American media. I wish you big audiences.

    • Maryjean, thanks so much for taking time to comment, and for your nice words. By the way, I am Karen. (Katherine was the person who wrote “America the Beautiful.”) I hope you will keep reading my blog, Maryjean.

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