Sugar Water, Ethnicities, and American History


At first I was confused. Why would so many people be upset at a commercial that aired during last week’s Super Bowl game? And the sponsor was Coca-Cola? How could an advertising message about carbonated water and syrup be offensive?

Then I clicked the link on my computer screen.

Soft, elegant lighting filled the screen. Beautiful faces began appearing before my eyes. And, beneath the visuals, the song “America the Beautiful” began to play.

But it is apparently right there – as the lyrics progress along – where so many people became upset. The voices began melding from one language to another. English, which was represented, simply became another part of a palette representing a global variety of ethnicities.

As the streaming video came to a close I found myself wondering if I’d missed something. Was there an offensive undertone I missed? Could there be a subtext to the visuals I am just not smart enough to notice?

Then I scrolled down to the comments posted below the video – and suddenly found myself awash in vitriolic language.

One poster felt insulted that “America the Beautiful” was sung in any language but English. Pointing to the fact that English has always been the accepted “official” language, it was affront to insulting all those who settled our nation.

Another felt by using different languages, Coca-Cola was eroding something akin to “Americanism.”

I paused and leaned back from the keyboard trying to digest what I was reading.

Best I remember my American history our nation is – and always will be – comprised of a wide variety of ethnicities, religions and orientations. As a matter of fact, if you were to walk down the streets of Galveston one hundred years ago, you might very well hear singing inside one home in one language only to walk another block to be welcomed by voices in yet another language.

Yes, the birthright of Galveston may very well be how its DNA continues to hold the very principles of what attracted people to our shores in the first place: diversity.

Historically speaking, Galveston is many times identified Ellis Island of the South. During the largest waves of immigration to the United States, Galveston ranked right behind Ellis Island in the welcoming of people to the New World. And while many spoke English, most did not. “Come as you are” may as well been painted across the entrance for all to see.

But the little thing about where they started life did not stop them from coming ashore and making a new life for themselves and their families. Just a quick drive around our island reveals a place rich in the culture and history nearly every ethnic and racial background. I’d challenge you to find another place in the United States with such a tremendous blend of ethnicity, religion beliefs, and orientations per square mile.

Maybe it is the island mentality of “we’re all in this together” or how we just don’t tolerate those who harbor once popular, yet ultimately false, stereotypes of our neighbors.

While I don’t admit to knowing all the answers, I do believe this unique mix of intercultural dependency has worked its way into the Galveston DNA of today.

Look around our community. Sure, we are not perfect, but we look and sound much more like the beautiful faces selling the world’s largest most popular carbonated beverage than not.

And that, my friends, makes me want to sing.


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