On Saturday at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., the Latino chorus Cantigas will proudly perform a very special rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. As part of the museum’s new exhibit “Not Lost in Translation: The Life of Clotilde Arias,” the group will sing the official Spanish translation of the national anthem, written in 1945 by Peruvian-American Clotilde Arias.
At the time, the U.S. State Department was trying to foster good relations with Latin America through arts and culture. Arias was a Latina immigrant composer who wrote jingles and she entered and won the Music Educators National Conference contest to translate the national anthem. Almost 70 years later, people will be able to listen to their national anthem — in Spanish.
“It’s huge for us, because it is our mission to bridge communities through music,” says Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, who edits the Cantigas blog and who sings in the recording of Arias’ translation, which is part of the exhibit. ”It was so emotional; I felt it was an acknowledgement of Latinos in this country and the contributions they have made,” she says. Arbona-Ruiz says Cantigas is composed of native-born as well as foreign-born American Latinos, and the anthem holds a special significance for all the singers involved. “It brought us all together as Americans and as Latinos,” says Arbona-Ruiz, who is Mexican-American.
In 2006, when a Spanish version of the national anthem sparked some political controversy, Cantigas’ grandson, Roger Arias II, remembered his father had mentioned his mother had written a version of the Star Spangled Banner. Arias remembered he had kept some boxes which belonged to his late grandmother many years earlier and he found the translation. He eventually contacted the Smithsonian and some years later, his grandmother’s work and life is the subject of a renowned museum’s exhibit.
“I’ll say our family feels honored about my grandmother and we realized how much a person who came from Peru had made of her time here,” says Roger Arias II. “My sister Michelle and I have found a lot about her; she even wrote a book which has not been published,” says Arias, who lives in Arizona. “Even my Dad had a better understanding of how big a deal his mother was!” says the proud grandson.
Marisa Arbona-Ruiz hopes that when Latinos, especially young Hispanics, hear the Peruvian-American’s historic Spanish translation of the national anthem, they feel proud, and more importantly, included. ”I grew up in Maryland, and I was one of the only Latinas in my school,” she says, recalling she encountered discrimination. “It was a different time,” she says.
“I hope when young Latinos hear this anthem in Spanish, they feel a sense of inclusion,” says Arbona-Ruiz, “and a sense of being like everybody else.”