Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’

Tonight’s release of “Nuestro Himno,” a Spanish language version of the national anthem, is further opening the wound exposed by the fight over immigration reform and the resulting protests.

British music producer Adam Kidron says that when he came up with the idea of a Spanish-language version of the U.S. national anthem, he saw it as an ode to the millions of immigrants seeking a better life. But in the week since Kidron announced the song — which features artists such as Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Puerto Rican singers Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon — it has been the target of a fierce backlash.

Some Internet bloggers and others are infuriated by the thought of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung in a language other than English. “Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not,” said Mark Krikorian, head of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports tighter immigration controls.

The initial version of “Nuestro Himno,” or “Our Anthem,” comes out Friday and uses lyrics based closely on the English-language original, said Kidron, who heads the record label Urban Box Office. Pro-immigration protests are planned around the country for Monday, and the record label is urging Hispanic radio stations nationwide to play the cut at 7 p.m. EDT Friday in a sign of solidarity.

A remix to be released in June will contain several lines in English that condemn U.S. immigration laws. Among them: “These kids have no parents, cause all of these mean laws … let’s not start a war with all these hard workers, they can’t help where they were born.”

The story gets page 1 treatment in WaPo as well.

Oh say can you see — a la luz de la aurora?

The national anthem that once endured the radical transformation administered by Jimi Hendrix’s fuzzed and frantic Stratocaster now faces an artistic dare at least as extreme: translation into Spanish.The new take is scheduled to hit the airwaves today. It’s called “Nuestro Himno” — “Our Anthem” — and it was recorded over the past week by Latin pop stars including Ivy Queen, Gloria Trevi, Carlos Ponce, Tito “El Bambino,” Olga Tañon and the group Aventura. Joining and singing in Spanish is Haitian American artist Wyclef Jean. The different voices contribute lines the way 1985’s “We Are the World” was put together by an ensemble of stars. The national anthem’s familiar melody and structure are preserved, while the rhythms and instrumentation come straight out of Latin pop.

Can “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the republic for which it stands, survive? Outrage over what’s being called “The Illegal Alien Anthem” is already building in the blogosphere and among conservative commentators.

Timed to debut the week Congress returned to debate immigration reform, with the country riven by the issue, “Nuestro Himno” is intended to be an anthem of solidarity for the movement that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to march peacefully for immigrant rights in Washington and cities across the country, says Adam Kidron, president of Urban Box Office, the New York-based entertainment company that launched the project. “It’s the one thing everybody has in common, the aspiration to have a relationship with the United States . . . and also to express gratitude and patriotism to the United States for providing the opportunity,” says Kidron.


However, the same advance buzz that drew singers to scramble for inclusion in the recording sessions this week in New York, Miami, Texas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic has also spurred critics who say rendering the song in Spanish is a rejection of assimilation into the United States. Even some movement supporters are puzzled by the use of Spanish. “Even our Spanish media are saying, ‘Why are we doing this, what are you trying to do?’ ” said Pedro Biaggi, the morning host with El Zol (99.1 FM), the most popular Hispanic radio station in the Washington area. “It’s not for us to be going around singing the national anthem in Spanish. . . . We don’t want to impose, we don’t own the place. . . . We want to be accepted.”

This strikes me as a stupid move on the part of the cause. If one’s goal is to demonstrate one’s value to a society and argue for the privileges of citizenship, then waving foreign flags and otherwise drawing attention to the fact that one has not assimilated into the culture–and has no intention of doing so–is foolish.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    How many Mexicans at Fort McHenry?

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    The national anthem in a foreign language is okay. We translate the bible into many languages. It’s not the language used but the meaning of the words.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Steven: But, to quote Marshall McCluhan, the medium is the message.

    In the case of the Bible, language has little to do with it. Yes, the Roman church had a big flap over switching from Latin and the whole democratization issue. But, mostly, the Bible is about worship of things above one’s own life.

    A national anthem, though, is about unity. Changing it to something other than the language of the society sends a message of disunity. In the case of official multi-lingual societies, Canada, having two official anthem versions is a concession to that disunity.

  4. “Nuestro Himno,” a wholesale altering of the anthem’s unifying message, is an abomination. It takes a song that has bound generations of Americans, and changes its words and language to promote a political agenda.

    When combined with the massive display of foreign flags outnumbering American flags at the first of the demonstrations demanding rights for illegal aliens, we can see the problem. The protesters have it backwards. They insist the United States embrace immigrants on the immigrants terms, rather than the other way around.

  5. Justin Cox says:

    Personally, I do not think the translation is a problem for American society. I think that those who support the assimilation of immigrants are focusing too exclusively on language and not enough on values. As far as assimilation goes, English has mostly instrumental value: it facilitates the acquisition of important American values and civic education that have intrinsic societal value. The primary goal in assimilation should be acquiring those values; the means to that end should be largely secondary.

    More about this here.

  6. james says:

    this is an absolute outrage. after flying mexican flags over the american flag turned upside down this is the final straw

  7. Charles B. Hall says:

    ‘Canada, having two official anthem versions is a concession to that disunity. ‘

    No, it is a concession to the fact that about three fourths of Canada is English speaking — the French version of “O, Canada” is the original one. And the meaning of the English version is very different from that of the French version.

    ‘How many Mexicans at Fort McHenry? ‘

    The bombardment of Fort McHenry was in 1814. Mexico didn’t become independent of Spain until 1821. So by definition, there could have been no Mexicans at Fort McHenry.

    However, over half the land area of the lower 48 states was once ruled (at least nominally) by Spain. And much of it was settled pretty well — Florida (starting in 1565), New Mexico (starting in 1598), Texas (17th century), California (18th century) were Spanish and then (except for Florida) Mexican. Louisiana was French beginning in 1715. Only in the case of Texas did some of the residents have any say in whether they were to become part of the United States. And Puerto Ricans were made US citizens without their consent. To say that America has been only an English speaking country is to distort history.

  8. Steve Sailer says:

    It turns out the song’s producer Adam Kidron is not Hispanic at all. Indeed, he’s from a very interesting family. He was born in England, where his father, Michael Kidron, was a famous Marxist theoretician and his uncle, the late “Tony Cliff,” was the leader of the largest Trotskyite party in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party or SWP.