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(DV) Kurth: Nuestro Paranoia







Nuestro Paranoia 
by Peter Kurth
May 1, 2006

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“The Latino-oriented record label Urban Box Office (UBO) said Friday it would put the new Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner’ on the market Monday to coincide with the U.S. Senate's debate on immigration legislation.”


-- Fox News


“The recording, dubbed Nuestro Himno’ or Our Anthem,’ is set to urban Latino rhythms’ but respects the song's traditional structure, with a few windy cadences and a loose translation about a sacred flag.’”


-- Sacramento Bee


“I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English.”


-- George W. Bush



Gentle reader: ¡Hola! ¿Que tal?  


I’m afraid that’s all the Spanish I know, if you don’t count isolated words -- mañana, tequila, Evita and so on. About 20 years ago, I took two months of Spanish lessons during a research trip to Madrid, but the only phrases that stick in my head, for some reason, are “Where are the skin creams, please?” and “I’m a stewardess for British Airways.” Neither of them will get me very far in the current raging debate over Nuestro Himno, the new, “Spanglishized” version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and evidently the greatest threat to national security and American amour propre since French fries and the Axis of Evil.


In case you missed it, Nuestro Himno is the brainchild of British-born producer Adam Kidron, the head of Urban Box Office, who recently pulled together a number of Latino pop stars -- Mexico’s Gloria Trevi, Puerto Rico’s Carlos Ponce, Cuban rapper Pitbull, etc. -- to record a Spanish version of the national anthem as “a statement of solidarity with the immigrant movement,” and to coincide with what were expected to be further massive protests for immigrants’ rights on Monday, May 1. By the time you read this, we’ll know if the nation has survived the indignity or not.


"I said, what's a song we could record that everyone could rally around?" Kidron declared last week in an interview with The Miami Herald.  “Me and everyone I know are living the American dream” -- even the English need to learn English, it seems -- “and, to an extent, we do it on the backs of American immigrants. I wanted to make the most beautiful version of the national anthem ever so it reflected the brilliance of these Latino artists.”  If there’s a whiff of commercial exploitation in Kidron’s remarks, that, too, is American as apple pie.


“Look at how many Americans parade their Irish roots on St Patrick’s Day,” Kidron explains. “And go down to Little Italy in New York.  When you hear people speaking Italian in those restaurants, you think, oh good, it’s authentic, the food must be good.  Yet it seems to be a qualification for Hispanic immigrants that they mustn’t … sing in their own language.” 


Granted, Nuestro Himno takes some rather large liberties with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” warbling on not just about the “sacred flag,” “fierce combat” and “gleaming emblems of victory,” but “equality,” “brotherhood” and the need for immigrant workers to “break [their] chains.” Overseas, May 1 is International Workers’ Day, and it’s this, combined with good old American racism and paranoia, that has the nation’s “conservative” punditry in such a froth. 


Take Michelle Malkin, for example, the syndicated columnist and TV talking head. Malkin is a sort of … well, dark version of Ann Coulter, who thinks Nuestro Himno is a sign that Mexico intends to “reconquer” the United States. I’m not aware that Mexico ever did conquer the United States -- I thought it was the other way around -- but Malkin’s words are part of a well-orchestrated right-wing piece, and they dribble to insignificance next to other commentary I’ve read.


“Just in time for their May Day celebrations,” says an editorial in The American Daily, “the hoards of illegal immigrants invading the U.S. have released a version of The Star-Spangled Banner’ in Spanish. [It] clearly shows what [they] want:  they want amnesty and they want communism.” The American Daily is published out of Phoenix, Arizona, whose citizens can’t build fences quickly enough against the “Messican” menace. Even Charles Key, great-great-grandson of “The Star-Spangled Banner’s” original author, Francis Scott Key, has got in on the act, finding it “despicable that someone is going into our society from another country and … changing the national anthem.” (If Key still got royalties on his ancestor’s words, I doubt he’d be so incensed.)


What nobody’s saying in this trumped-up farce is that Nuestro Himno isn’t being forced on anyone.  No one’s asking that it be made “official,” for Spanish-speakers or anyone else.  Singing Nuestro Himno is and will be entirely voluntary -- if it can be sung at all, that is, which “The Star-Spangled Banner” notoriously can’t. Even professionals forget the words and start begging for mercy when confronted with this octave-swooping thing, which is why the anthem is now routinely lip-synched at baseball games -- that and the memory of Roseanne Barr, whose raucous, crotch-grabbing rendition of the tune nearly led to riots in 1990.  In It All Started With Columbus (1961), humorist Richard Armour explained how we got stuck with Key’s musical nightmare to begin with.


“In an attempt to take Baltimore,” Armour wrote, “the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor…. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off’ Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and when, by the dawn's early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror!”


So take heart, America -- no hay nada temer! If millions of illegal aliens start singing Key’s song, they just might run shrieking back over the border. 


Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including: Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: peterkurth@peterkurth.com. Visit his website at: www.peterkurth.com/.