Jose, can you see?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu May 4 13:17:23 UTC 2006

Jose, can you see?

Hispanic Link News Service

I have dual qualifications for commenting about President Bush's belief
that the national anthem should be sung only in English. Most of my
conscious life, I have heard the "Star-Spangled Banner" sung
inappropriately. Some people think they are oh, so clever, after meeting
me and they say _ you guessed it _ "Jose, can you see...?" When I was
still an adolescent and through my mid-20s, I responded with, "by the
dawn's early light." But later I thought better of it and just didn't play

After all, the national anthem's real intended purpose was to inaugurate a
public event, like a ball game. To sing along was an e pluribus unum
reminder that out of many people one nation was formed. It wasn't a
derisive salute to those who bear my name. But when Bush hit the front
page saying, "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English," I
was seriously confused. What had those people been doing all those years
by singing the first line with a Spanish name, "Jose, can you see..."? Of
course, Bush was reacting to the lyrics' Spanish
translation/interpretation by a group of transnational Latino pop stars
singing the national anthem in support of the migrants in the United
States. So it seems it's okay to ridicule those named Jose using the
national anthem but not to sing it with reverence.

I thought otherwise. What a nice tribute to the United States by those
artists! And, oh, how misinterpreted! One newspaper called it "the latest
flashpoint." Mainly, Bush is still trying to placate those hopeless grumps
that he often tries to appeal to with ideology, bad policy, metaphysics
and steely words. Now they want to lock in the national anthem. I would
have thought the president would have objected more to controversial
singer Gloria Trevi as one of the performers than the song itself. The
real problem some people have with a Spanish version of the national
anthem is that they want to make the national vision, the idea of
nationhood, a reminder of their heritage and history into a property. They
want to define it and own it so the rest of us can't share in it.

Professor Ian Peddie, who wrote a book on music and social protest, said
about this affair that the critics "are feeling some of their most sacred
artifacts are under siege." And that's the point. The national anthem is
not an artifact but culture.  Culture is different from property. It is
acquired by adaptation and education. It gains from its allure and
promise. The Dream Killers are trying to take all that away and make you
pay them. Don't do it. Then there is my other qualification for speaking
authoritatively on this subject. According to my oldest living relative,
who is 94 and resides in Mexico City, among our distinguished ancestors is
Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle. In 1792, he wrote a song to encourage
others on. His song, "La Marseillaise," was declared the French national
anthem in 1795. It was so inspirational that English versions are readily
available. My relative says she does not object to La Marseillaise's
lyrics in English or any human language.

Why? Because it's culture, stupid.

(Jose de la Isla is a columnist for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail

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