Superbowl Coke Commercial Was Very Well Done

Monday, February 17, 2014

There has been way too much shrill, screechy, hysterical chatter from right-wing talking heads and politicos over the debut during the Superbowl of the very well done Coca-Cola commercial “America is Beautiful.”  

The commercial in question featured scenes from across the country to the tune of the first stanza of “America the Beautiful” sung in eight different languages.  Almost as if in answer to the combined hopes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, The Young Turks, and the folks at The Onion, figures such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Allen West quickly jumped to condemn it. 

The objections of most of the commentators centered around the stanza being sung in seven languages in addition to English and that America the Beautiful is a “Christian” song.  Of course, many also pointed out and objected most strenuously to a family in the commercial of which a same-sex couple was head.  Their overall claims seem to be that “America the Beautiful” is for white (with certain exceptions like ex-Rep. West), English-speaking, native-born, fundamentalist Christian, heterosexual Americans of the extreme conservative variety and for none other.

In truth, each language used in the commercial belongs to a group with a lengthy history in the land that is now the United States of America, some longer than the English.  There were eight in all:  English, Senegalese French, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Keres, and Tagalog.  

Katherine Lee Bates, author of the song’s lyrics as well as the person who made Mrs. Santa Claus more than a shadow figure, lived for 25 years in conjugal bliss with another woman, Katharine Coman, professor of history and political economy (founder of the college’s economics department) at Wellesley College, where Bates was professor of English Literature.

Ms. Bates, a Republican until 1924, did not write “America the Beautiful” to promote the kind of ethnic and national chauvinism advocated by the detractors of the Coca-Cola commercial and which was rising in the country at the time (1893).  Rather, inspired by the view from the top of Pike’s Peak, the purpose of the song was an invitation and inclusion as a contrast to the jingoist trends of the 1890’s, in the same vein in which Christian socialist Francis Bellamy first composed the Pledge of Allegiance. 

To refresh your memory or enlighten your unawareness, let me share Bellamy’s original text as he first wrote it in 1892:  “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice for all.”

Italians actually forged the way for European exploration into (some might instead say “invasion of”) the West.  The three most important milestones in the earliest stages were performed by pilot-cartographer-navigators from three different Italian maritime merchant republics. 

In 1492, Cristoforo Colombo (aka Christopher Columbus) of the Republic of Genoa, sailing under a patent from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela of Spain, landed at an island in the Caribbean Sea.  Even after four voyages to the Caribbean, some of which included landfall in Central and South America, he remained convinced this was merely the extreme east of Asia.

In 1497, Zuan Chabotto (aka John Cabot) of the Republic of Venice, sailing under a patent from King Henry VII of England, made landfall in North America, most often identified as being at Newfoundland though no sure evidence of the exact location is known. 

In 1502, Amerigo Vespucci of the Republic of Florence, serving as navigator in a fleet from Portugal, sailed far enough down the coast of South America and charted enough stars to determine that the landmass to his starboard (right) was completely separate from the Afro-Eurasian landmass.  A New World, as it were.

Of course, all of these were preceded five centuries, half a millennium, by the Norse who established colonies in Greenland, part of North America, as early as the late 10th century.  These Norse had outposts and camps on the mainland in the vicinity of Newfoundland.  Their Greenland settlements, and therefore their mainland outposts, died out with the population around 1400 because their agriculture failed and they were too proud and “too Christian” to accept advice and help from their “heathen” Inuit neighbors. 

Now back to the commercial.  Let’s start with the most recently arrived language and work backwards in order by which they were spoken by permanent settlers.

Tagalog is the “youngest” of the languages in the video in relation to the U.S.A.   

Tagalog is the language in the Philippines native to the Southern Tagalog region on Luzon and the basis for the national language, Filipino.  Filipinos did not have to immigrate to America, America advanced its western borders to take in the Philippines in 1898, though it did so without granting the country’s residents U.S. citizenship. 

From that year until 1946, the Philippines Islands, along with Guam, were territory of the U.S.A., though its residents were not exactly citizens of the country.  Their money, however, clearly gave the name of their country as United States of America, including 1946, like the quarter from that year that my former mother-in-law gave me as a wedding present. 

Mandarin is the next most recent arrival.  

The Chinese began appearing in Alta California in the 1820’s, when it was still part of New Spain.  The first major wave, however, began in 1849 with the California Gold Rush.  After the Civil War, another wave built the railroads of the West, most notably the transcontinental line of which the final spike was driven in 1869.   

These Chinese laborers were the Western counterpart of the Irish who built much of the railway system east of the Mississippi, like the laborers who completed the lines of the Western & Atlantic and the East Tennessee and Georgia into Chattanooga in the 1850’s, at least one of whom was an ancestor of mine.

The language used in the Coca-Cola commercial next most recent in arrival is Hindi.   

East Indians, meaning those from the Asian subcontinent, were recorded in the English settlement of Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia as early as 1634.

Speakers of Hebrew, at least as a religious language, first settled in large numbers in the later U.S.A. in the late 16th century.   

Marranos, as they were called, formed the largest number of settlers in the newly founded New Spain province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico.  Many of colonists in New Mexico descended from Jewish converts to Catholicism during the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, suspected the penalty for being found out (burning at the stake), one can hardly blame the discretion.  Some 1500 Hispanic families currently in New Mexico are descended from original Marrano settlers.

In the English colonies, the center for Jewish settlement was Charlestown, capital of the Colony of Carolina and later of South Carolina.  In its founding charter in 1663, Carolina guaranteed religious freedom to all, including “Jews, heathens, and dissidents”.  It was by far the most liberal law on freedom of religion in the colonies.  Charlestown remained the center of Jewish life in the later U.S.A. through the 1830’s. 

Arabic arrived in the later Contiguous 48 with slaves brought over by the Spanish to Florida from West Africa, between ten and twenty percent of whom were Muslims.  

However, daily speakers of Arabic did not settle until 1586.  In that year, the privateer Francis Drake sailed to the Caribbean with a large fleet after raiding the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa, where he captured and razed the Spanish settlements at Cartagena, Colombia, and San Agustin in Florida.  In addition to these attacks, his forces fought sea battles and destroyed a number of Spanish galleys at sea, taking aboard the surviving galley slaves.   

To these he added the African slaves taken from the vicinity of San Agustin.  Partners with Walter Raleigh, he then proceeded to Roanoke with the freed slaves whom he identified in his records as “Turks, Moors, Greeks, Frenchmen, and Negroes.”  

Various accounts give their number as being from 200 to 1200; most likely the figure was 600-800.  These disembarked at Roanoke in order to bolster the personnel at the base there.  No record exists of what became of them, but some speculate that it was these may have become the basis of the Lumbee and Melungeon peoples. 

English is the sixth-most recent of the eight languages used in the stanza of “America the Beautiful” used in the Coca-Cola commercial.  

By comparison to Spain, and France, the English were Johnny-come-latelys.  Though Zuan Chabotto’s 1497 expedition was English-patented, it only made a temporary landfall.  The first permanent settlement was the base at Roanoke Island in 1585, established for privateers raiding the Spanish Caribbean trade.  The first venture failed the next year, followed by the second in the same location in 1587, which became the famous Lost Colony whose members went to live with the Croatan Indians. 

The first lasting settlement by the English in what became the U.S.A., of course, was at Jamestown in modern Virginia.  The Colony of Virginia embraced, or at least claimed, the modern states of Virginia, West Virginia (until the Civil War), the Carolinas (until these were detaches as a separate colony), and Bermuda, plus adjacent lands.  Founded in 1607 by profit-seeking adventurers, its main export became the drug nicotine in the form of tobacco. 

French was the second European language spoken by permanent settlers in the later United States, represented in the song by the Senegalese-French dialect. 

Though the Spanish mounted several expeditions into the interior of the Southeast, they were not moved to establish a permanent presence until the French did so first at Charlesfort on Parris Island and Fort Carolina near Jacksonville, Florida, in 1562.  The French named their colony Carolina after their king, Charles IX.

Three years afterwards, the Spanish destroyed the French colony’s settlements, later building Santa Elena on Parris Island and San Mateo where Fort Carolina had been in addition to the new settlement at San Agustin.   

Interestingly, though the whole was named La Florida, the Spanish kept the name Carolina for the northern region in honor of Charles V.  When its southern territory was detached from Virginia for a new colony in 1663, it was named Carolina for Charles II of England.

There are, by the way, four major dialects of French native to the Continental U.S.: New England French, Missouri French, and Louisiana French, of which there are two major subdivisions, Louisiana Creole and Cajun French. New England French is related to Quebecois; Missouri French was once spoken across Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; Louisiana Creole developed in the south of French Louisiana; Cajun French derives from Acadian French and arrived with refugees fleeing the Grand Derangement in 1755. 

The arrival of French in North America predates that of English by three-quarters of a century, and as for the Senegalese dialect represented in the commercial, no one can argue that Africans were not part of the American fabric from earliest days.

Spanish in the Contiguous 48 as a language spoken by permanent settlers dates from about the same time as the French.   

Three years before the French established their colony of Carolina, an expedition by Tristan de Luna which landed in Pensacola Bay travelled up the Alabama River to establish the colony of Santa Cruz at the former native town of Nanipacana.  It lasted over a year before abandonment.

Spanish Florida occupied Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Before the foundation of the English colonies and their subsequent expansion, Carolina and Ajacan (Virginia) were also part of Florida.  In fact, the original capital of Florida was at Santa Elena on Parris Island, which had satellite forts well into the interior, as far as East Tennessee (San Pablo). 

In the West, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, of which Florida was part, and later Republic of Mexico provinces of Alta California, Nuevo Mexico, and Tejas took in what are now California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and Texas, as well as parts of the later U.S. states of Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska.

New Spain also took in the Spanish East Indies, the Philippine and Marianas Islands in the Western Pacific, both of which were lost to the U.S.A. in the Spanish-American War of 1898.  The Republic of the Philippines gained its independence in 1946; the Marianas Islands, which include the Northern Marianas and Guam, remain U.S. territory and their residents now citizens of the U.S.A. 

The Spanish West Indies, also part of New Spain, included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and other islands and archipelagoes.  Of these, Puerto Rico had remained U.S. territory since 1898, its residents U.S. citizens, Spanish-speaking as their ancestors were.

Keres, a Native American language whose roots date back to the almost mythical Anasazi of the Southwest, has been spoken there for over two millennia.  Today the Keres are a nation of Pueblo Indians living in northern New Mexico. 

Except for Native Americans/American Indians (contrary to the politically-correct enforcement brigade, the 500 Nations themselves use both), we are all creoles.  The word “creole” is the French version of the Spanish “criollo, a person of non-native ethnicity born in the “colony” rather than in the homeland of his or her ancestors. 

Chuck Hamilton 


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