Why Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl 2014 Commercial Got it Right

I know I am late to the party but it took a little bit of time to figure out my response to the negativity that surrounded the Coca-Cola Super Bowl 2014 Commercial.  At first I wanted to write about the ignorance of the individuals who tweeted their disgraceful comments.  However, that just made me angry and liable to say something I would regret.  After mulling it over, I decided to write about how Coca-Cola got it right.

I am very familiar with “America the Beautiful.”  My alma mater is Wellesley College and a Wellesley alumna, Katharine Lee Bates, authored the poem.  It was a big part of my college experience so as I sat in my neighbor’s living room and heard the first few notes of the song, I thought it was pretty cool there was a commercial using it.  Within five seconds, I stopped what I was doing when I realized the next few words were in Spanish.  It took about 10 seconds for everyone in the room to realize that the commercial was in multiple languages.  For the rest of the commercial, an immigrant and the children and grandchildren of immigrants from three countries sat in silence.  They heard the language of their parents and grandparents during the Super Bowl.

While I don’t have a typical immigrant background, Coca-Cola’s commercial spoke to me.  My grandmother and mother are not technically immigrants in that they came here from Puerto Rico and are citizens by birth, contrary to what Laura Ingraham would have you believe.  However, both instilled a deep sense of pride in my Puerto Rican heritage AND American roots.  Listening to the Coca-Cola Super Bowl 2014 commercial made me feel that same sense of pride.

That is why Coca-Cola’s commercial was pure genius.   It played to the sense of belonging and patriotism that immigrants feel and want their children to feel when they make the decision to come to this country.  In 2011, there were over 40 million immigrants and over 17 million children of immigrants in the U.S., not to mention the millions of Americans who are grandchildren of immigrants.  Coca-Cola did not make this commercial without knowing these facts.  It made a decision based on economics and it made total sense.  This decision will reap rewards for them well into the future.  They scored because I will always remember the first time I heard a commercial in multiple languages that just happened to air during the Super Bowl.  You can’t get more mainstream than that.

Honoring Your Heritage and Loving Your Country

Growing up it took a while for me to realize that I was an American.  Everyone around me said they were Puerto Rican and told me I was as well.  I learned Spanish and English at home.  I watched the Muppets and Smurfs and Sesame Street while also watching Iris Chacon, Don Francisco, and every telenovela under the sun (Dos Mujeres, Un Camino was one of my favorites!) with my grandmother.

It wasn’t until I went to school that I truly realized I was an American.  At school, I said the Pledge of Allegiance in English but also learned Spanish from teachers who looked and sounded like my family.  I learned nursery rhymes in English and dressed in these big flouncy dresses so I could celebrate my Puerto Rican heritage.  I thought this was normal and you could be Puerto Rican and American because the people I grew up with were Italian and American, Portuguese and American, Cape Verdean and American, etc., etc., etc.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned how threatening this was to people who didn’t grow up with the diversity I did.  Unfortunately, that ignorance still exists.

On Tuesday, Sebastien de la Cruz sang the national anthem at Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Boy, did he sing.  You see, Sebastien, who is of Mexican Heritage, is a known singer in Texas (and beyond) of mariachi music who stepped in at the last minute to sing the national anthem.  Personally, it gave me chills to hear him sing and it made me proud that a young Latino had the opportunity to shine on such a large stage.

But as I mentioned earlier, ignorance still exists and this young boy was attacked as an other because he dared to come out in traditional mariachi dress to honor is heritage and honor his country of birth with a terrific rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  Of course, the backlash against the ignorance was swift but the best response was directly from Sebastien.  He made it clear that he was a proud American and part of a proud American family.

Hearing his response made me remember my childhood growing up as a Puerto Rican and an American.  But most importantly, it made me remember that I could honor my heritage and still love the country I was born in.  It’s a lesson I am passing down to my daughter.

By the way, if any of those ignorant folks are wondering what an American looks like.  Here is my American Salvarican (half Salvadoran and half Puerto Rican daughter) celebrating her Puerto Rican heritage last year.

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