Earlier this month, as the Super Bowl went underway, one ad sparked more controversy than any other: Coca-Cola’s. Despite lasting only sixty seconds, a national conversation on the issue of multilingualism and diversity ensued. Disputes broke out on social media. Both conservative and liberal politicians and commentators argued over whether the ad was anti-American or pro-American. Against the will of detractors, Coca-Cola defiantly aired the ad again during the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, this time televising the ninety-second version and adding the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “out of many, one”) to the beginning.
So what was it that caused so much controversy? Singing “America the Beautiful” in other languages.
Nine languages were represented in the song: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi, Hebrew, Keres, French and Arabic. All of these languages—with the sole exception of Keres, which is a language native to the Pueblo Indian peoples of New Mexico—were brought to the land we currently call the United States, English included. Really, unless you are one of the small percentage of Americans who claim Native American heritage, at some point your ancestors (or maybe even you or one or more of your parents) immigrated here by foot, boat, or plane.
Diversity has been a particularly important issue recently. The idea of “being American” is so widely debated and open to interpretation that no one can truly pinpoint what it means. How much of your “foreign” culture can you retain—whether it’s Irish, Indonesian, or Iranian—and still consider yourself a part of American culture? Does it mean anything if America’s most common last names go from Smith, Johnson, and Williams to Garcia, Rodriguez, and Martinez?