I was recently made aware of the apparent hubbub in reaction to the Coke commercial which appeared during the 2014 Superbowl. All of the strife seems to stem from the actors in the commercial singing parts of “America the Beautiful” in their native ‘non English’ language.
As a third generation Japanese American born in the Baby Boomer Generation I was raised to ‘assimilate’ into American Culture. Both of my parents along with my Grandparents, aunts and uncles were subject to Executive Order 9066, the interment of all Japanese American citizens under the auspicious of “protection” during WWII. For those who have no idea what this is about, you can educate yourselves by reading a bit about it here.
After the war my parents moved to Chicago where they met and eventually married. The prejudice against Japanese Americans was especially severe on the West Coast after the war. Because my father’s family owned farm land in California, (which was never returned, nor was he ever compensated) he and my mom decided to make the trek back to the West. My sister and I were born in Los Angeles and we eventually moved to Orange County. This was in 1950-1960 time period, a very different time and place, or so I thought.
I believe my parents subliminally raised me and my sister in a manner in which we were encouraged to completely assimilate into American Culture. We were not encouraged to attend Japanese School, learn our native language or attend Buddhist Church. Although it was unspoken I truly believe that their trauma of being forced to leave their homes simply for being Japanese Americans led them to ensure that their own children would not be subject to the same treatment at some point in the future. Unlike my cousins who stayed in clusters of Japanese American families in LA, my own parents made ‘the split’ and moved to an all white neighborhood without the support of the Japanese American communities.
It’s really no different than Chinatown, Japantown or North Beach where Italians congregated to live. Human nature leads us all to live and thrive in communities of like minded, same religion, same food people. My parents simply wanted to live where they could afford a home for their family. In some ways we were shunned by our own ethnicity by our move. One of our neighbors recently let me know that when we wanted to move into the neighborhood, some of the neighbors started a petition to keep us out sighting ‘loss of property value.‘
I am proud to be of Japanese heritage and even more proud to be an American citizen. Proud that my father served as a decorated tank commander in the Korean War, that all of my blood uncles served in the 442nd Division in WWII and that my dad’s brother became the very first Japanese American Naval Aviator in the Korean War and was highly decorated in battle.
I wish I had learned more Japanese. I wish my parents had encouraged it more. As an adult I can make the decision to learn, but I have discovered that my aptitude for languages is at the second grade level! But I also believe that if I move to another country, out of respect I would learn and use the language of my new country. But that does not mean I would use the language all of the time. I have learned the lessons of assimilation and it should never mean that we completely forego from where we came.
And if, as in the case of the dreaded Coke commercial I wanted to sing that heartfelt and beautiful song in my native language I would do so with pride. Why? So that those who I had left to move to another country would understand some of the wonderful and poignant words I was singing, the pride I felt for my new and adopted country. In the case of the Coke commercial, I found it wonderful that we have come to a time where singing part of our song in respective native tongues is allowed. I find it disturbing that we have yet to come to a time when it is not fully understood. More alarming to me is that something like a Coke commercial gains a more indignant reaction than the practice of Gerrymandering which is truly much more sinister and harmful to America than any commercial.
And in reality to stay true to the intent of those who felt disrespected by having other languages interspersed into America the Beautiful, the entire song should have been sung in the language of the Navaho.
I’m a lifelong Pepsi drinker, but not for the reasons of a song. I just think it tastes better!