Friday, April 28, 2006

Long may it wave

Seems everyone is all excited about a new version of the American national anthem--because the lyrics are sung in Spanish. President Bush has denounced it. "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English." Michelle Malkin denounces Bush for having a Spanish language web-site.

Liberal/communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni in a TPM Cafe post ("No Affirmative Action for National Anthem" argues that "it has been a long and productive tradition for ethnic groups to sing both the national anthem and that of their country of origin, to celebrate both the 4th of July and --"their" independence day, and--to display both the American and "their' flag. To have ethnic specific NATIONAL anthems, instead of a shared one (which may be modified) cuts into the bone."

According to a Los AngelesHispanic dee-jay intervied on NPR , even Latinos don't like it, he said by a 60-40 margin.

Now I'm a Norman Thomas (wash it, don't burn it) and Todd Gitlin (Intellectuals and the Flag) type of leftist, but I don't see wait the fuss is all about.

After all, there is the Negro National Anthem and "How High the Moon" is the bebop national anthem.

What's wrong with a Spanish version of the SSB, when most of us don't know the English version very well

nearly two-thirds of Americans ... do not know the lyrics of the national anthem's first stanza, according to a recent Harris survey of 2,200 Americans. The song includes four stanzas, but only the first is usually sung.

What's more, of those who claimed to know all the words, only 39 percent knew what follows "whose broad stripes and bright stars," which is "through the perilous fight." One-third answered, "were so gallantly streaming," while a fifth said, "gave proof through the night." Both phrases appear later in the first stanza.
[For a source on the Harris poll, click here--March 29, 2009

Many people feel that the martial spirit of the SSB doesn't reflect the real spirit of America and feel that we deserve better music in our national anthem. Some would prefer "America the Beautiful" or "This Land is My Land." But that's a question for another day. Today, people are talking about whether the SSB should be English only.

It's easy to forget that a century ago, America was multi-lingual and that a lot of cultural diversity was wiped out in the Americanization campaigns that accompanied America's entry into World War I. I had a sneaking suspicion that this Spanish translation of the Star Spangled Banner was not so unique, so I did a little internet searching. Remember that the SSB wasn't even adopted as the official national anthem until 1931.


Here are the lyrics of the "Star-Spangled Banner" in Yiddish (albeit not in the original Hebrew characters), in a translation of Ber Grin's, which can be found in _In dinst fun folk; almanakh fun yidishn folks-ordn_, New York: Book League of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order I.W.O., 1947, p. 112.
Star spengld bener
fun Frensis Skat Ki
O zog! konstu zen in likht fun sof nakht,
Vos mir hobn bagrist in demer-shayn mit freyd?
Di shtrayfn, di shtern -- in flaker fun shlakht
Fun di shuts-vent mir hobn mit bang in blik bagleyt.
Un der blits fun raket, un der knal fun kanon
Durkh der nakht gerufn hobn zey: es lebt di fon.
O zog! di fon mit di shtern iz zi nokh tsehelt
Iber land fun fraye un iber heym fun held?
Afn breg, durkh neplen fun yam fartunklt,
Vu dem soynes makhne iz fartayet in shrek,
Vos iz es, in bloz fun laykhtn vintl fartunken,
Ot halb-farborgn, ot af a helft antplekt?
Es iz di fon mit di shtern, o, af lang zey tsehelt
Iber land fun fraye un der heym fun held.
O, azoy vet es tomed zayn, ven frayer mentsh mit gever in hant
Bashitsn vet zayn libe heym kegn farlend fun krig un zayn shnit!
Gebentsht mit zig un frid, zol dos land
Loybn di kraft, vos hot undz als folk farhit!
Undzer kamf iz a gerekhter -- undzer iz der nitsokhn,
Zol zayn undzer gebot: "In got iz undzer bitokhn!"
Un di fon mit di shtern, in zig vet zi zayn tsehelt
Iber land fun fraye un der heym fun held!

[Update:This is from discussion list of Mendele, a web forum for Yiddish literature and language.Thanks A.L.]

Another Yiddish version can be found here. and which appears below. It was published by the Educational Alliance in 1943 on the 100th anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Keys.
[Thanks A.L.]


Aue! se'i e vaai, le malama o ataata mai

Na sisi a'e ma le mimita, i le sesega mai o le vaveao

O ai e ona tosi ma fetu, o alu a'e i taimi vevesi tu

I luga o 'Olo mata'utia, ma loto toa tausa'afia

O Roketi mumu fa'aafi, o pomu ma fana ma aloi afi

E fa'amaonia i le po atoa, le fu'a o lo'o tu maninoa

Aue! ia tumau le fe'ilafi mai, ma agiagia pea

I eleele o Sa'olotoga, ma Nofoaga o le au totoa.

A SPANISH version prepared in 1919 by the U.S. Bureau of Education.

It has also been translated into NAVAJO and applauded when sung in public.

In 2002, the Cherokee National Youth Choir sang their English and Cherokee version of the Banner in a performance at the Department of the Interior! The Cherokee nation has actually revised the SSB into their own United Cherokee national anthem which can be heard here. This is the only version I've come across that actually falls under Etizoni's edict against separate ethnic national anthems.

In 1923, an article in the Scientific Monthly complained that when brought into a class to be taught "Americanism" Finnish immigrants wouldn't sing the Star Spangled Banner. Incidentally, the Finns are criticized for their radicalism and described as "Orientals."

In the early 1940s at the height of war-time unity, Metropolitan Opera Chorus & National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini performed the Internationale sung in Russian, followed by the US anthem. MP3
There was controversy when Jose Feliciano sang the SSB in 1968 and when Jimi Hendrix turned an instrumental version into an anti-war protest at Woodstock, but those passed.
Translating the Star Spangled Banner into other languages--whether Spanish, Navajo, or Yiddish-- is not un-patriotic. It is part of the process of self-Americanization.

Update: Norm Geras discusses the controversy on Norm's blog. I like his conclusion.

Whether or not US citizens should all learn English and know how to sing the national anthem in English, it's perfectly OK to have a Spanish version. It's the land of the free, isn't it? So people can sing the thing every which way they want. And having a Spanish version is a way for Spanish-speaking US citizens to embrace the anthem to their bosoms. It may not be the only way, but it's a way.
Joshua Rosenau on the anthem (O'zog, kenstu sehn, wenn bagin licht dervacht) at Thoughts from Kansas.

Update March 29, 2009 A couple of minor spelling and grammatical changes made. In the qu ote about Harris poll, an ellipsis was added to make it clearer. A source for the Harris Poll has been added. I don't think it was the original source, but a reference is belatedly provided.

Post a Comment