A chorus of Americans, including President Bush and conservative local talk radio hosts, voiced their opinion Friday that the national anthem should be English-only.
A controversial Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" called "Nuestro Himno" debuted over the nation's airwaves Friday. Sung by an ensemble of Latino pop music stars, the newly mixed song -- the title translates to "Our Anthem" -- was played mostly on Spanish-language stations. It was written to inspire solidarity among protesters for Monday's planned nationwide demonstrations over immigration reform.
"I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English," Bush said in the Rose Garden, during a question-and-answer session with reporters.
The Spanish-language version, which alters Francis Scott Key's original words, struck an immediate sour note with many Americans who jammed switchboards at local radio stations. The song quickly became a lightning rod for the anger many feel about the nation's immigration policies.
"Never underestimate the power of symbolism when it involves the flag and the national anthem," said John Kobylt, co-host of "The John and Ken Show," which airs afternoons locally on KFI-AM (640). "Our audience has gone nuts over this. We got tons of e-mail and most are furious."
The duo opened their Friday afternoon show with the Spanish version. "It's a clear statement from illegal aliens -- and I don't know if they are intending this or not -- but it says 'we're not assimilating,' " Kobylt said.
But even at stations that serve primarily Spanish speakers, the song hardly opened to universal praise. During immigration protests in March, some Spanish-language disc jockeys sensitive to American attitudes over its cultural icons disapproved of the widespread display of Mexican flags.
"We really have gotten mixed reviews to the song, but it clearly has hit a nerve," said David L. Haymore, vice president and general manager of Spanish Broadcasting System, which owns KLAX-FM (97.9 La Raza) and KXOL-FM (Latino 96.3). "Some see it as disrespectful, but others in the community see it as adding flavor to what this country is all about."
There was little indecision among callers to "The Al Rantel Show," a conservative talk show on KABC-AM (790), where the song quickly became a segue into talk about illegal immigration.
"A display of more madness that hasn't been checked," said a caller who identified himself as Brian.
"I didn't know if it was something more or less to thumb their noses at us," said caller named Stephen. "It's like, 'We're here and you better learn Spanish fast.' "
For his part, Rantel told listeners: "You don't mess with a country's national anthem. It's a bad PR move."
The song takes liberties with Francis Scott Key's original words. For instance, an English translation of parts of the second verse of "Nuestro Himno" reads:
"The time has come to break the chains.
Throughout the night they proclaimed, 'We will defend it!'
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
Above the land of the free,
The sacred flag?"
Times staff writers Maura Reynolds and James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.