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Melting pot?

The Spanish-language version of the US National Anthem sparked a very uninspired comment from our president.

“I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English,” Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden. “And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.”

I can see what he’s getting at, and I can even see the argument that a Spanish-language version might encourage Spanish speakers not to learn the English version, but I don’t think this is how Bush should have approached the issue.

First of all, I would have evaluated the message of the song, to see if I felt it matched the original Star Spangled Banner. Then I would have remarked that it’s great that America is such a melting pot and that we have so much creativity coming from so many different cultures. After that, I would have expressed concern that the song might detract from English language learning, and suggested that the two versions be played back to back on the radio.

I don’t think we should so easily tramp down on creativity and the desire for unity. Because that’s what this song is. It’s about inclusiveness. It’s about welcoming Spanish speakers to the US. With the current immigration debate heating up, it’s easy to go on the offensive about all things Mexican or South American or Spanish language-related. But we don’t need to alienate the people who come here legitimately.

And a dangerous subtext of the president’s remarks is, “If you come to America, you have to conform.” I didn’t think that was the message of our country at all. Shouldn’t we be proud of the mishmash of cultures that have come together to form this great nation?

I do think that immigrants should learn English, but I don’t think we should make it difficult for them to speak their native language. Our language is tied up with our identity, and people shouldn’t be forced–or even strongly encouraged–to abandon that.

[Update 5/1 7:17 a.m.]: Condi’s response is more what I was thinking would be good:

“I’ve heard the national anthem done in rap versions, country versions, classical versions. The individualisation of the American national anthem is quite under way,” she said on the CBS show “Face the Nation.”

“From my point of view, people expressing themselves as wanting to be Americans is a good thing,” she added. “I think what we need to focus on is an immigration policy that is comprehensive and that recognises our laws and recognises our humanity,” she added.