More than 50 nationalities are represented at Junction City High School. Many of those students, whose parents serve in the U.S. military and defend our country while being based out of Fort Riley, speak another language besides English. Their ability to speak a language other than English doesn’t make them any less American, nor does it mean that they don’t love their country just as much as those who speak only English.
That’s why it comes as some surprise that social media is alive with complaints about the use of what many people erroneously presumed were “foreigners” singing “America, the Beautiful” in a Coca-Cola commercial during the Super Bowl. Some of the singers weren’t speaking English and appeared to be in another country, based on the setting in the videos, though the intention was to show America from mountains to the desert to rural areas and inner-city urban areas. The commercial, which was intended to feature various beautiful settings across the United States, included seven languages besides English, including Keres (spoken by Pueblo Indians), Spanish, Mandarin, Hebrew, Arabic, Senegalese-French and Hindi. Each of those languages is represented in the U.S. though, besides Spanish, in smaller numbers than the estimated 4.8 percent who speak Chinese.
Strangely, the commercial launched an online civil war of sorts focused on who qualifies as being American. Though America long has been known as a melting pot of people and cultures, unless people live in ethnically diverse metropolitan areas they might not know the prevalence of foreign-language speakers within the family of the United States. More than 20 percent of Americans — more than 60.5 million people — in the U.S. Census reported speaking a language other than English at home. The most commonly used non-English language spoken in the U.S., not surprisingly, is Spanish, however, the ability to speak a second language didn’t mean that they also didn’t speak English well or very well — nearly 78 percent say they speak both.
Spanish speakers are a powerful and attractive group as evidenced by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., providing a Spanish version of the party’s response to last week’s State of the Union address. Spanish also ranks as the most popular second language taught to students in America and Franklin County, which eventually broadens their job prospects.
Though Coca-Cola might not have accomplished its goal on its first try, perhaps its extended version of the commercial — expected to be broadcast during the coming winter Olympic games beginning Friday in Sochi, Russia — will help.
The United States is a multi-cultured country, despite what many of us see every day. The Olympics competition brings together participants from around the world and is a friendly athletic competition involving great cooperation between people who speak various languages. Surely, if people can get along at the Olympics despite language barriers, we can do so in America too.
America’s spirit should be about celebrating differences rather than being offended by them — just as Coca-Cola attempted to do.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher