A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Our anthem or Nuestro himna: are they the same?

Over at NPR they’ve got a very useful posting about the Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner, which has aroused quite a bit of controversy. Created just in time for the big protests on Monday, this Spanish version begs the question: Is this an attempt to show how devoted illegal immigrants are to our country, or is it an attempt to co-opt the national anthem for the purpose of those who want full amnesty and an open border?

Now, first, let me say that I think it’s a bit embarrassing that our national anthem was set to the tune of a drinking song, and that it is practically unsingable. But be that as it may, I also am a purist about it, since I love my country and believe that it deserves the utmost honor. It personally makes me blanch every time I hear someone play fast and loose with the singing of this song, displaying their narcissistic vocal pyrotechnics when all we really need is to think about the duty and sacrifice and honor that is encumbent upon us as Americans. Just hit the notes, please, so we can concentrate on what’s really important. And by the way—it’s even worse when the singers forget the lyrics or mangle them in their focus on showing off their vocal chords.

Here are the lyrics to the Spanish song, as published on the NPR site:

Nuestro Himno (Our Anthem)
Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?
lo que tanto aclamamos la noche caer?
sus estrellas sus franjas
flotaban ayer
en el fiero combate
en señal de victoria,
fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Por la noche decían:
"Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún
Voz a su hermosura estrellada,
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?
Sus estrellas, sus franjas,
la libertad, somos iguales.
Somos hermanos, en nuestro himno.
En el fiero combate en señal de victoria,
Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Mi gente sigue luchando.
Ya es tiempo de romper las cadenas.
Por la noche decían: "!Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?

English translation:

By the light of the dawn, do you see arising,
what we proudly hailed at twilight's last fall?
Its stars, its stripes
yesterday streamed
above fierce combat
a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed:
"We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Its stars, its stripes,
liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
My people fight on.
The time has come to break the chains.
Throughout the night they proclaimed, "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?

You can also click a link there to hear a version that is being played on many Spanish-language radio stations.

I am troubled by the change in meaning of the above song, and I do not think it is a matter of mere translation. This is not the same national anthem. For comparison’s sake, let’s remind everyone what the actual lyrics are:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming,
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there?
O say! Does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

See, it’s a set of questions, and the answer, then and now, as I tell my students, is “YES!”

Yes, our flag does still fly. We have watched it fly in times of war and struggle. It has been carried into battle for the defense of our country. shrouded in the smoke of cannon fire.

It has flown in times of sorrow.

It has draped the caskets of millions of heroes and heroines.

It has served as a beacon and a hope and an appeal to “the better angels of our nature,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln, when our leaders have drifted from the ideals for which it stands.

Our flag is an emblem of freedom so strong that it can withstand the attempt of people to politicize it, but that does not mean that we should not defend it. And defend it we must.


At 4/29/06, 4:03 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

They undoubtedly have a political agenda. I wonder, if the vast majority of illegal immigrants were not Spanish speakers, rather they spoke one of the many Chinese dialects, would this tinkering with our US National Anthem be happening ?

What would happen to a "norte Americano, blanco" who went to Mexico and tried to do the same with the Mexican National Anthem?

I am getting the impression that many classroom teachers are hesitant to voice an opinion about the current immigration issues.....I wonder why?

At 4/29/06, 4:11 PM, Blogger 100 Farmers said...

Funny that Polski said that because I had the same question this morning but it wouldn't let me post. I have been hesitant to say anything because of my experience teaching ESL students. I hate the thought of denying a child an education but the immigration thing has gotten out of control and is a major drain on school resources here in Texas. How about charging Mexico an education tariff? BTW-the anthem translation is just wrong!!!

At 4/29/06, 6:07 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

You do know that there are schools in southern Arizona that actually go across the border and pick up students, on the theory that those kids will end up here anyway and therefore might as well be educated. This reduces the amount of money spent on each kid of a resident, and taxpayers, by the way.

I have had several ESL students. A few of them are here legally, but most are not.

I hate to say it, but providing a free education is another draw for illegal immigrants. Of course, I also think we should not allow any students living outside our district to register in our school without paying tuition, and we've got lots of those.

We are sitting silently while government cuts benefits to our own citizens and wages for workers have been stagnating for years while Mr. Bush prattles about how illegal immigrants are "human beings" and deserve "compassion." Where is his compassion for the citizens of this country? He slurs them and says they don't want to work, and the implication is that they deserve no compassion.

My students and I have discussed this issue, but very delicately. I try to keep my opinions in this, as in all things, to a minimum, and keep the kids civil. This national anthem thing certainly pushed some buttons.

I am troubled by the fact that this other song uses the sound of our national anthem to talk about "our people" in a very divisive way. Read the translation, since most of us would assume it's just a literal translation of our anthem.

We are demanded to accept illegal behavior and an insular culture, to boot. A lot of these people do not want to be Americans; they want to take American jobs and remain Mexicans but with all the rights and privileges of Americans.

I want to reward people who come here legally and welcome them with open arms, however; I am no xenophobe. Oppressed people have the right to try to better themselves but not to invade our country. Mexico has the right to determine its requirements for immigrants, BUT SO DO WE.

At 4/29/06, 10:03 PM, Blogger Mr.D AKA the History Dude said...

My first thought on reading it was - For crying out loud! The national anthem has been rewritten by a bunch of ivory tower educationist!

At 4/29/06, 10:24 PM, Blogger EHT said...

I'm glad to see that the newshounds are advising the masses that the translation does change the words and the meaning. At first glance it might seem ok for those who have not learned English yet, but they are singing a totally different song. I wonder if the French would appreciate American expatriates rewording their national anthem and creating a recording of it. I don't think so. Just because we are in the liberty business I don't think we need to take liberties with our anthem. I agree it's hard to sing and the tune is a recycled drinking song, however, the history behind it is very heart-stirring. Sadly most Americans don't know the story or have forgotten it. I love my anthem and I agree with the President----don't mess with it and sing it in English.

At 4/30/06, 11:11 AM, Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

i'm actually disgusted by this change.

and while i do wholeheartedly believe in showing "compassion" to people, as you pointed out in your post, there are plenty of people who are obeying the law who could use some "compassion."

At 4/30/06, 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm... The word in Spanish for "liberty" is "libertad", not "libertada".

At 8/8/08, 12:54 PM, Blogger John Castronova said...

The national anthem has long been a linguistic representation of our national philosophy. Personal freedom is a responsiblity and is sometimes in need of a defense. So this is my defense for Nuestro Himno.

This American Anthem stands for our long held beliefs in personal liberity. Let us reflect on some of the lines:

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Its stars, its stripes,
liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
My people fight on.

The lyrics are quite different. At least if you compare them word for word. But the message stands clear. We must earn our freedom.

The repeat of questions in the song-

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?-

shows a greater understanding of the consistent need to defend liberty than Key's anthem. It forces us, as liberated peoples, to continuously relfect on the state of our freedom and our country. This anthem calls for active citizens in civic discourse.



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