Monday, February 3, 2014

Coke Has Always Been About America

But last night they exposed the ugly side of it.  Let me explain.  Last night, during the Superbowl, Coca-Cola had an ad in which America the Beautiful was sung in a variety of languages behind pictures of what America looks like, a variety of races, cultures, faith traditions and families.  I was stunned at the beauty of it and made a joke on Twitter taking bets on who would be the first to say something racist.  It was late in the game and since I was more interested in a Broncos win I changed the channel, turned off the computer and went to bed.  I woke to a barrage of horrible internet posts across social media from the calling for a boycott of Coke to a new push to make English the official language of the country.  Also we are being treated to a rewrite of history when it comes to the amazing rich diversity that led to the old Melting Pot idea of what it means to be a American.  

There were quotes like this:

 “What USED to make America great was that the immigrants who came here from other countries learned our language and their cultures blended into ours.  America the Beautiful should be sung in one language, and one language only, English.”

There were also many anti-Arab and anti-gay comments as there were two men looking out of a window (wearing kippot by the way) and the women wearing a hijab at a Halal food cart.  

Let's unpack this quote, first while people came here and tended to learn the language and blended into the American culture, that doesn't mean they gave up their own distinct language and culture for the most part.  We still see  Italian American festivals, Greek Fest, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day etc. etc. etc.  We have Little Italy, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Korea town in many cities around our country.  But what is interesting as these cultures became part of the American tapestry their cultures CHANGED what it meant to be an American.  Waves of immigration redefined what it meant to be an American.  The proverbial melting pot was never an idea that cultures would disappear into a sauce of "real America" but had flavor to the ever changing American stew.  So when each group brought their cultural traditions, practices and language it influenced the American experience.  We see this in the fact the great American food product Pizza is a 19th century immigrant and many people here would know what the word schlep means even if they never met a European Jew.  American is about diversity and a blending of culture and even if you see it as assimilation as a goal it does not mean that one must completely leave behind their cultural histories and practices.  

I love New York City in part because like many major American cities you can experience so much of what makes America great, the intermix of our cultural heritage.  Jewish teens getting food at the Halal truck, a Christian Bible Study group at the 2nd street Deli, African American women doing Tae Kwon Do in a Lower East Side park are all normal parts of the city.  Our strength is that we allow for us all to be ourselves and yet all become American.  

But let's be clear, in our country the beauty of being what we want allows for the bigotry that we see in response and our valued free speech gives us the freedom to have these bigots express themselves fully.  But if their bigotry is not unanswered we give them the narrative.  What is funny is that Coke made their point of our Unity in Diversity at a truly American event, the Superbowl, an event that unites most of us in a shared story of an American tradition, an American game and an American cultural touchstone.  Let's not let it be defined by that which is the ugliest of us.  

When confronted by this today and in days to come remind people almost all of us came from somewhere else, bringing our distinctiveness to the party and in most cases making the America greater.  And when you leave, maybe say Adios.......

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