United in song: the evolution of our American anthems

The Argentine national anthem is the oldest official anthem in the Americas. Drafted in the early years of the Spanish American wars of independence, an Argentine constituent assembly made it official in 1813, three years before the country’s official declaration of independence from Spain.

The song’s lyrics, written by Alejandro Vicente López y Planes—who later served as interim President of the young nation—originally contained numerous lines of bloody invective against the Spanish, e.g.:

Pero sierras y muros se sienten

Retumbar con horrible fragor:

Todo el país se conturba con gritos

de venganza, de guerra y furor.

En los fieros tiranos la envidia

Escupió su pestífera hiel

Su estandarte sangriento levantan

Provocando a la lid más cruel.

Mountain ranges and walls are felt

To resound with a horrible din:

All the country convulses with cries

of revenge, of war and of rage.

On the fiery tyrants Envy

Spit her pestiferous bile;

They raise their bloody standard

Provoking the cruelest of combats.

Relations between the two countries had come a long way since the prior century’s bitter war of independence. Commerce was thriving, and Spanish immigration to Argentina was in full swing. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards had migrated across the Atlantic over the previous decades, changing the South American nation’s demographics, politics, and even its language. These words reflected the national sentiment during the violent period of revolutionary fervor. By the close of the nineteenth century, however, they were no longer an accurate representation of the times.

The tension between lyrics and politics came to a head in 1900, after a high-profile visit of the new Argentine frigate Presidente Sarimento to Spain. The Spanish king and queen rolled out the red carpet to captain and crew in ceremonies that prominently featured the Argentine anthem.

This show of royal honors to a song that castigated both the crown and its subjects created some discomfort back in Buenos Aires. Just weeks after the visit, then-President Julio Argentino Roca issued a decree on the anthem. It noted that the Argentine anthem “contains phrases written as a product of another era…incompatible with international relations of friendship, union, and harmony that today unite the Argentine Nation with Spain.” Nonetheless, the decree continues, “without altering its text, the National Anthem contains verses that align perfectly with the concept that all nations have with respect to their Anthems in times of peace and that are consistent with tranquility and dignity of thousands of Spaniards who share their lives with ours.” As such, it ordered that only the more diplomatically-friendly first and last verses, along with the chorus, would be played at public ceremonies.

That artful bit of diplomacy—changing the anthem without actually modifying the lyrics—remains in force today.

This episode reflects how our anthems represent a national “calling card” of sorts—a window into the ever-evolving worldview of a country and its people. Our anthems naturally express deeply rooted national sentiments. They are also ubiquitous, one of the only types of song that spans generations. Almost every citizen learns their anthem at a very young age, and hears it regularly. (In some nations, TV and radio stations must play the anthem at set times daily. Mexicans, for example, instinctively associate their anthem with 6 a.m. and midnight.) Anthems are also one of the few national symbols that foreigners routinely encounter, as these songs are commonplace at occasions like sporting events and official ceremonies.

The same may be said about the anthems of the Americas taken together. They tell a story of our region as a whole: who we are; how we reached independence; and how we have changed. They are, in short, a microcosm of what the Americas represent and how they have evolved.

The transformation of the Argentine anthem to reflect normalized relations with Spain was emblematic of a broader trend. During the post-revolutionary period, Cuba, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil also modified the original lyrics of their anthems (whether official or unofficial at the time) to account for better relations with their former colonizers.

https://theglobalamericans.org/2020/09/united-in-song-the-evolution-of-our-american-anthems/When Cuba officially adopted “La Bayamesa” as its anthem in 1902, the government quietly set aside two verses of the song’s original lyrics, written during the war with Spain. (*) Contributor to Global Americans. See the complete article published by Global Americans www.theglobalamericans.org