During this year’s Super Bowl, the Coca-Cola Company presented one of its popular musical ads, this time portraying immigrant children from different ethnicities singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. In spite of the beauty and originality of the ad, certain groups exploded in anger and posted disturbing comments such as “I will never drink a Coke product again”, “My Anthem is sung in English”, and “Some terrorist[s] were singing our song”, that filled the Coca-Cola Company Facebook page and website.
One of the reasons for this indignation might stem from the fact that some folks in the United States mistakenly believe that “America the Beautiful” is our National Anthem, which it is not.
“America the Beautiful” comes from a poem written by Katharine Lee Bates, an English teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, back in 1895, and a melody called “Materna”, composed by Samual Ward, an organist at a church in New York City, back in November 1904.
In spite of a strong movement organized to adopt “America the Beautiful” as the country’s national anthem, in 1931 President Herbert Hoover and Congress signed the congressional act that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official National Anthem of the United States of America".
In the words of Caldwell Titcomb, Professor Emeritus of Music at Brandeis University, “…’The Star-Spangled Banner’ has been the only official national anthem in the United States since March 3, 1931.
Another worrying aspect of this debate is the belief that English is the official language of the United States, when in fact the United States does not have an official language. Even though the American Civil Liberties Union argues that English should be declared as the official language of this country, that would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech”.
Racist comments against the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad seem to have come mostly from ultraconservative groups, and from those who are either uninformed, or who have had little or no exposure to other countries or languages.
This is not the first time ultraconservative groups overreact against a certain product or situation. According to the Huffington Post and the American Library Association, the incredibly successful Harry Potter series (with films that earned a staggering $7,709,205,984.00 at the worldwide box office) is among the most banned books in the United States. However, these reactions may not be too worrying to Coca-Cola, as its largest business is not here, but abroad. Coca-Cola FEMSA in Mexico is the largest franchise bottler of Coca-Cola trademark beverages in the world (in fact, Mexico is Coca-Cola’s largest consumer worldwide).
Still, what does worry many people in the United States is the fact that while Coca-Cola tried to portray a globalized, modern image of the United States, the racist comments published everywhere on the Internet might be detrimental to the progressive image of this country. The extreme reaction displayed by some members of the public may be worrying to immigrant groups and to corporations with foreign professionals working in the United States.
Except for Native Americans, the United States was created in its entirety by immigrants, who have founded 40 percent of Fortune 500 Companies, as well as some of the most popular companies in the US, such as AT&T, Google, EBay, Big Lots, Kohl’s, and Comcast. In fact, back in 2011, according to The Huffington Post, “immigrant-run businesses employed one in 10 American workers”.
According to Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of The Hamilton Project , “On Average, Immigrants Improve The Living Standards of Americans… by affecting the prices of the goods and services that they purchase…” . The Center for American Progress indicates that “Immigrants help keep Social Security solvent”, and that “… cutting off immigration to the country would increase the size of the Social Security deficit by 31 percent over 50 years”.
Therefore, it must have come as an unpleasant surprise to all immigrants in the US and to viewers in other countries that a television ad showing foreign children sing an iconic American song in their native languages – obviously meant to highlight American values and music -- was so bitterly criticized here in the United States. What does this tell them about our attitude towards other nations?
New immigrants are today considered a driving force in the United States, and the derogatory comments and harsh criticism of Coca-Cola’s multilingual ad could be detrimental to the harmonious relationship necessary to boost the economy of the United States in the years to come.