Tonawanda News

February 6, 2014

KEPPELER: Beautiful ... in any language

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — You know, for the most part, I genuinely like people. I think they’re basically decent. I believe that even through our differences, we can find common ground ... and sometimes, our differences make us stronger.

But every once in a while, I see a news story that just has me wanting to go off on a lengthy, not-safe-around-the-kids rant, stomp around for a while while grumbling and then vanish into a cave somewhere in which the only people I encounter are those in books. And my family. I suppose I’ll let them in, maybe.

This week’s rant-worthy situation? The response to Coca-Cola’s ad Sunday during the Super Bowl.

Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t, but the basics are this: “America the Beautiful” sung over a montage of scenes from, well, America. It was gorgeous, the song was beautifully sung, and  it was maybe a tiny bit sappy and tear-inducing for those with a tendency to get sentimental about their country.

The problem? It wasn’t sung solely in English. It was also sung in Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi, Hebrew, Keres, Senegalese-French and Arabic -- in nine of the hundreds and hundreds of languages spoken right here in the United States of America.

It was a beautiful ad that promptly kicked up a whole lot of ugly.

“Speak English or go home,” said one commenter on the company’s Facebook page, according to USA Today.

On Twitter: “@CocaCola has America the Beautiful being sung in different languages in a #SuperBowl commercial? We speak ENGLISH here, IDIOTS.” 

Those are only two examples, of course. I even saw the backlash on my Facebook page, where I thought most of those I called “friend” were decent enough human beings to know better.

So rather than disappear (even figuratively) into the aforementioned cave, I’m going to try to take a deep breath and write out just what I find so offensive about this attitude.

Almost all of us originally came here from somewhere else. One friend commented that if Coke really wanted to re-do the commercial in the native language of this country, they’d have to start with those spoken by the Iroquois, Seneca, Cayuga and Mohawk peoples  -- and that’s just from this area.

Many of those who came here didn’t speak English. Fact: They came from Poland, from Germany, from Ireland, from Italy. They came from China and Mexico and the countries of Africa. And I daresay that even if my ancestors did arrive speaking what was more or less English (many of them were from Scotland), it wasn’t an English that today’s detractors would recognize as the language.

Most of those who start out with another native tongue learn enough (American) English to make do, at least. But they never leave their native language behind entirely. How many of us remember or know an older family member or friend who still prefers to use another language when around similarly bilingual comrades?

And if they don’t learn it, or don’t learn it well ... their children do. And their grandchildren. 

Coming to American does not take away what you were before. It does not take away your roots. It simply adds to the fabric of this country, because we are a melting pot with a rich and varied background, and that is awesome.

Good for Coke for celebrating that fact.

•••

OK, rant over, for now. This will be my final regular weekly opinion column for the Tonawanda News. As of Monday, I’ve stepped into the role of Sunday lifestyle editor, succeeding editor Danielle Haynes.

I’ve enjoyed having the chance to write for the opinion page, and I’ve enjoyed the feedback I’ve received from readers over the years. Sure, I haven’t agreed with everything you’ve said, (and vice versa, of course) but I appreciate that you’ve read my words and found enough to think about that you contacted me and, for the most part, kept reading. I love the Tonawandas, I continue to live here and I’ll certainly continue to have opinions on what goes on in this region, Western New York, the nation and world at large. 

I’ll be continuing with columns in the Sunday lifestyle section ... and every once in a while, I’ll return to this space, with thoughts and opinions specifically about the Tonawanda region.

Thanks for reading.

Jill Keppeler is the Sunday lifestyle editor for Greater Niagara Newspapers. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.

Jill Keppeler is the Sunday lifestyle editor for Greater Niagara Newspapers. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.