Why We Need More Ads Like Coca-Cola’s

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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?

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Learning to Say “Hola”

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These past three weeks, I spent three hours a day—right after lunch—at a Spanish immersion camp at the Dallas International School. I never would’ve expected it be such a fun experience!

I’ve always dreamed of being a polyglot, so I was enthusiastic to start learning a second language. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to take a Spanish immersion class at DIS.

Languages are a critical part of diversity, and other languages need to be embraced. In the United States, there is little—if any!—pressure to learn a second language. A lot of people hold the view that other people should be expected to learn English, while they make no attempt to start learning another language.

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Playing Scrabble in Spanish. Surprisingly difficult! (Okay, maybe not surprisingly, but still difficult.)

A typical day during my summer at Dallas International School included classroom time playing games in Spanish and learning new vocabulary, going to the computer lab to research for a project or to learn grammar, recess, and possibly a non-language related class (like “Clay” or “Body Motion”) with either the ESL or French class.

All of our classroom and computer time was in Spanish. Our teacher spoke to us almost entirely in Spanish, and we learned to respond in Spanish. I’ll be honest, I was completely lost on my first few days and I needed the help of an Argentinean girl who spoke fluent Spanish.

Unlike school, which pounds grammar rules into your head and puts less emphasis on actually speaking, this camp focused primarily on speaking, which will get you much further than just being able to explain the present progressive or direct object pronouns.

Our usual ping pong tournaments. The kids in English class were better than the rest of us in Spanish class.

Our usual ping pong tournaments. The kids in English class were better than the rest of us in Spanish class.

As fun as speaking Spanish was, my favorite part of the entire camp was the people. Within my own class, everyone wanted to learn Spanish. Unlike school, where the majority of the kids couldn’t care less about learning the language (see the “English-only” mindset I was talking about earlier), here everyone wanted to learn, and we all supported each other.

Our class mixed a lot with the English class next door, and we all grew incredibly close. We had people from France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and Korea all coming from their respective countries to learn English. Even within my own Spanish class and the French class, we all grew up in different cultures—including Iranian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, and Argentinean ways of life. And the coolest part? All of us—whether we were from the United States, Europe, Asia or Latin America—were completely open about our cultures and were willing to share.

IMG_1241A friend I made from the English class came from South Korea, and after finding out I do taekwondo, we made an instant connection. Two of the kids from France would share French words with us. My teacher, originally from Mexico, shared stories about Mexico City and all the delicious food there.

We broke down ethnic, cultural, and lingual boundaries, all during one summer. We didn’t ignore language, culture, or nationality, but instead we embraced it. We embraced our differences, since all of those differences are part of who we are and help make us unique.

The world we live in is incredibly diverse. Whether we belong to a different ethnicity, believe in a different religion, practice a different culture, or speak a different language, we are all just people who have different life stories and experiences that should be shared.

This is the world I want to be a part of. A world that cherishes other cultures. A world that encourages other languages. A world that wishes to truly embrace diversity in all its forms. And we can be that world by breaking down boundaries and being truly interested in the other ways of life, experiences, and languages around us.

A group photo of the English and Spanish class at the end of my third week.

A group photo of the English and Spanish class at the end of my third week.

My Spanish class on the last day of my second week.

My Spanish class on the last day of my second week.