By Ed Diokno
I’m a sap for sentimentality. Despite 28 years as a journalist – having to deal with tragedies, liars, bigots, criminals, despots, PR spinmeisters and countless examples of peope’s inhumanity towards man and woman – I never let the “bad” news turn me into a grouchy, old cynic. I still get a lump in my throat when the Star Spangled Banner is played as the TV camera focuses on the faces of our Olympic athletes; I stand a little straighter when veterans get honored; I struggle to compose myself when I talk about the struggles our AAPI pioneers had to endure, and I get teary-eyed when I see and hear this multi-lingual version of America, the Beautiful. Among the languages used in the commercial to sing America, the Beautiful are Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi and Farsi.
One of the images in this long version of the Coke commercial,which includes scenes and interviews with everyone involved in its making, there’s a brief image of a former neighbor of mine, the late Dolores Basco, an immigrant from the Philippines. If you don’t look for it you’ll likely miss it. I was surprised to see it and had to go back and freeze the frame with her image. There she was!
Mrs. Basco – that’s what I called her – always had a smile for me. Her wisecracks about other people in our Filipino American community are part of my fond memories of her. She always pitched in when my parents hosted an event at our house, using her kitchen as an auxiliary when the food prepping got too big or the four burners on our kitchen range was not enough. Her kids babysat our daughters.
Mrs. Basco is also the grandmother of Dante Basco, the very same actor who played the groundbreaking role of Rufio, leader of the Lost Boys, in the movie Hook. The Basco family’s fourth generation are also shown in the clip’s swimming pool sequences.
When the 30-second commercial was first shown during the 2014 Superbowl, the bigots and faux patriots came out in droves, especially on the Internet “How dare Coke! America, the Beautiful should only be sung in English!” was the gist of their outrage.
To its credit, Coca-Cola resisted the xenophobes, defended the concept, doubled down and aired a 90-second version of the commercial during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics a couple of months later.
I know, it’s a Coke commercial and it’s hard to justify the amount of sugar in one serving of the soft-drink – but what better way to celebrate America’s birthday than by mixing capitalism with patriotism? To many people around the world, Coke is as iconic a symbol for America as the Red, White & Blue or Statue of Liberty. Try to think of the message, not the soft-drink. The real product the commercial is selling is what America can be; what American should be.
RELATED: Dear White America …
The message of the America, the Beautiful commercial needs to be heard again. Forget the soft-drink and focus on the message: America is a country of diverse peoples; you don’t have to be an English-speaker to love America; you don’t have to be White to be an American. It is not a nostalgic longing for the past, but a reach towards the future of our country.