Your Language, My Culture: Why America is Beautiful

So this post is super untimely, but like many other working moms, I haven’t had the time to write as often as I’d like.

This is something I’ve had on my mind for a while – the reaction of those offended by Coke’s multilingual ‘America the Beautiful’ commercial during the Super Bowl.

It really goes back to the personalization of language I wrote about previously. In the same way that having my son call me “mommy” in another language would somehow hurt my feelings, many English-speaking Americans were appalled that a song paying tribute to their country would be portrayed in any language other than their own. Instead of discussion of multicultural tolerance and education, this led right to ignorant social media comments and talking heads on CNN rambling about immigration assimilation – a topic onto which the media could easily latch, as it quickly stirs up emotional reactions from its viewers.

All because of a song, sang in a few languages.

There are many, many reasons why I disagree with the offended. However, it is not at all surprising, as it is a natural human tendency that comes with the comfort and pride that resides within one’s own national culture.

The book, “Exploring Culture: Exercises, Stories and Synthetic Cultures” written by Gert Jan Hofstede, Geert Hofstede and Paul B. Pedersen analyzes cross-cultural psychology through empirical research. It has some pretty interesting exercises for the reader that will really shine a light on your own cultural vision.

Of course, having motivation to pursue this kind of education (multicultural competence) is an issue in and of itself. They write, “The intellectual challenge is understanding the essence of national culture: the rules of the social game that differ across borders. The emotional challenge is being able to put yourself in the place of somebody from a ‘strange’ country.” The latter part is something for which many simply have no desire, interestingly enough, in a nation that has revolved around immigration since its inception.

In this book, you’ll see that intercultural contact is always somewhat stressful because it involves a level of unfamiliarity. When encountered with a foreign element of any kind, the natural reaction for someone raised by a family who has lived in a country for several generations, particularly with very little exposure to other cultures, is to become territorial and defensive. They have no interest in trying to look through another cultural lens, or to understand the beliefs of someone else who was raised with values inherently different from their own.

The U.S. is big enough that we see this even from region-to-region. One can’t understand why another can’t enjoy the same food, traditions or becomes frustrated with different government infrastructures. (Just one of a many examples, Northerners living in the South often can’t get past preconceptions of the South being less evolved, and often complain about its tendency to “move slow” – from the way institutions handle the snow, to, of course, the way in which some speak. This leads to Northerners perpetually being viewed as outsiders).

This is the issue at the core: the book reads, “It simply will not do to presume that all foreigners will one day become like us,” and this is a concept that many will sadly never understand, or care to understand.

But to those who fall in this category, and who were offended by the multilingual ‘America the Beautiful,’ I would ask: what about all of the first generation, multilingual children born in this country? Would anyone say this country is not theirs as much as second or third-generation American children? Are they less American because they can speak more than one language? Multiculturalism and multilingual skills are things that should be encouraged in our children, not diminished by prejudice and xenophobia.

I want to provide my son with a life rich with three cultures. I want him to love this country enough that he would want to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ in any language. That is why I love living in the U.S. – I have the chance to live in a country where I can meet people from all walks of life and continue to expand my own worldview.

Unfortunately for the offended and culturally insensitive, they will forever face disappointment because the people of this world will continue to become more intertwined and multicultural. It is inevitable, unstoppable. My son is proof: my Turkish-Korean-American boy.

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