Monday, May 01, 2006

Jose, Can You See?

There's an old joke that goes something like this:

Star-Spangled Banner national anthemA visitor from Latin America attends his first major league baseball game in the United States. When he gets home, a friend asks him what it was like.

"Americans are so friendly and caring," he replied.

"Why do you say that?," his friend asks.

"Well, when I got to the baseball stadium, almost all the tickets were sold out. I was only able to get a seat in the top row of the highest set of bleachers. The baseball players looked like ants from that distance."

"So?," his friend remarks. "How does that make Americans friendly and caring?"

"Just before the game began, to my great delight, the whole crowd stood up and looked at me and sang, 'Jose, can you see?'"
I'm sure I am not the only person to remember that story -- which I swear I first heard in fifth or sixth grade -- during the current kerfuffle about whether the "Star-Spangled Banner" should be sung in Spanish. This has been Topic A of the blogosphere and talk radio, and it has even reached the nosebleed section of American politics: the White House and the U.S. Senate.

Last week, according to Saturday's Washington Post,
President Bush yesterday said "The Star-Spangled Banner" should be sung in English, not Spanish, and condemned plans by some immigrant groups to stage a work protest on Monday to sway the debate over the nation's immigration laws.

With passions running high over the release of "Nuestro Himno," a Spanish-language version of the national anthem, Bush told reporters that people who want to be citizens of the United States should learn English and "ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."
Today in Congress, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), proposed a resolution that would prohibit the singing or recitation of the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner" in any language but English.

According to The Chattanoogan, a Tennessee newspaper, Alexander said in a floor speech:
“Mr. President, across the country today, thousands and thousands of immigrants – legal and illegal – are marching in a nationwide rally. Many are saying that they, too, want to be Americans.

“But, Mr. President, I’m afraid the message is, quite literally, getting lost in translation. As part of these demonstrations, a new version of our national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, has been produced – in Spanish.

“According to an article in the Washington Post last Friday, at least 389 different versions of our anthem have been produced over the years, in many musical styles, including rock and roll and country. But, the Post also noted, never before has it been rendered in another language."
I'm not sure who was wrong first -- The Post or Senator Alexander -- but that statement is simply, flat-out, factually wrong. There have been plenty of translations of the "Star-Spangled Banner" into other languages, and "Nuestro Himno" is not the first.

Let's just look at a few random Google hits.

There's a Scottish Gaelic translation of the song by Catherine McInnis, called "A' Bhratach Breacadh Nan Reul."

An article dating from 2002, entitled "The 4th of July - Polish-American Style" has this to say about Polish-American patriotic customs:
The vast majority of Polish Americans have celebrated the Fourth of July in various ways for generations. At times of heightened anti-Polish and general anti-foreign sentiment (late 19th/early 20th centuries), the occasion provided our immigrant ancestors with an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to their adopted American homeland. To this day, Polonians observe the Fourth of July by holding their own parish or club festivities as well as family picnics and outings. The Scranton, Pennsylvania-based Polish National Catholic Church holds a major annual Fourth of July celebration that begins with an open-air Holy Mass under a tent, followed by refreshments, folk-dance performances, music, games and other attractions for the entire family.

A fitting tribute to the occasion might be a Polish-American patriotic commemoration which could showcase the contributions of Kazimierz Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko to America's independence and honor other Polish-American soldiers who gave their lives in America's defense. Such an observance could include wreath-laying at Kosciuszko, Pulaski or Revolutionary War monuments or war memorials, a dual Polish and American flag-raising and the playing of both countries' national anthems. If your community has the choral capacity, an interesting twist might be the public performance of a Polish-language version of the "Star Spangled Banner."

The only known translation of the American national anthem into Polish was the work of Chicago lawyer and life-long Polish National Alliance activist, Walery J. Fronczak (1893-1886)[Note: I think this should read 1893-1986 -- RS]. The text, published by Chicago's Polish-language "Relax" magazine (March 28, 1987) and reprinted in Wojciech Bialasiewicz's "W kregu Chicagowskiej Polonii", went as follows:

Gwiazdzisty Sztandar
O, czy widzisz Ty - wczesny swit spedza mrok.
Sztandar, co duma nas napawal przy zorz sklonie
I czarem swych barw, gwiazd, gdy go przez wa_ strzegl wzrok,
Lsnia, chociaz krwawy boj nikl w wieczora oslonie?
Przez cala noc ryk dzial, i blysk rakiet wiesc slal,
ze jeszcze ten nasz pelen sily znak stal.
O, czy gwiazdzisty sztandar powiewa jak wprzod,
Kedy wzrosl wolny kraj, gdzie wzniosl dom dzielny lud?

O, niech tak bedzie wciaz, gdy stanie wolny lud,
By uchronic swoj kraj od zniszczen wojny, glodu!
Niech z niebios laska kraj triumf swieci przez trud,
Niechaj slawi te Moc, ktora Stra__ Narodu.
W proch pasc musi nasz wrog.
Bo prawa bronim drog.
To haslo tkwi w nas:
"Wiara! Z nami wciaz Bog!"
O, niech gwiazdzisty sztandar powiewa jak wprzod,
Kady wzrosl wolny kraj, gdzie wzniosl dom dzielny lud.
And at a very interesting web site called " Online Forum," one finds translations into Swedish, Indonesian, Finnish, German, and even Esperanto.

On the same site, you can find a facsimile of an original Yiddish translation dating to 1943, and a facsimile of the sheet music for a Spanish version dating to 1919! At least two German translations can be traced to the Civil War -- and somehow I can't imagine President Lincoln tut-tutting about German soldiers fighting for the Union who wanted to sing "O! sagt, k├Ânnt ihr seh'n."

Ignorance does not mix well with xenophobia, though the two far too often walk hand in hand.


Anonymous said...

I own a book of "Latin Songs and Carols", with a Latin translation of the anthem. It was published by the University of Toronto Press in 1945. (It also, incidentally, has Latin translations of "O Canada", "Rule Britannia", and "God Save the King", not to mention "Auld Lang Syne", "It Came upon the Midnight Clear", "My Old Kentucky Home", and "Three Blind Mice".)

Maura in VA said...

Great post, Rick. And what of the news today that Bush himself has sung the Anthem in Spanish at political rallies back when he was first running for President? The hypocrisy is astounding.

Tim said...

I want to see the national anthem translated into Pig Latin. O aysay ancay ouyay eesay?