Thank You Coke: Why Embracing Multiculturalism Is Smart

Thank you Coke for starting the national conversation on multilingualism in the United States. Muchas gracias a Coca Cola por iniciar la conversación nacional sobre el multilingüismo en los Estados Unidos.

Your inspiring commercial on Super Bowl Sunday reminded all that the demographics of our American "melting pot" are changing. As of May 17, 2012, the number of births reflected the change that all had been anticipating. We were now a majority minority country with 50.4 percent of the babies born classified as belonging to a racial or ethnic group that is non-white or Hispanic. Further, almost 20 percent of the current United States population is multilingual -- and that number is on the rise. And nearly a quarter of the children in our country come from immigrant families. That is why it was appropriate -- even laudatory-- for Coke to present "America the Beautiful" in the chorus of voices and languages that represent our American mosaic.

It is high time that we embraced a view of our nation that reflects its changing character. The American family is no longer that 1950s image of Ozzy and Harriet with white mom and dad, two kids and a station wagon. And Santa Claus can be both black and white. We are diverse in family make-up (here is a shout out to the Cheerios commercial) and we are a part of a tighter and more multilingual global world.

If we want our children to thrive, we must embrace these facts and come to realize that supporting diversity and multilingualism is a good thing. In a newly released policy report from the Society of Research in Child Development, we were part of a group of scientists working in the area of language and literacy, who not only presented the statistical data, but who also spoke to some of the advantages of having more than one language. Did you know that communicating across languages is an advantage for securing jobs? And a number of research studies suggest that bilingual children and adults like those who appeared in the Coke commercial are more mentally agile. They also are more likely to be more attentive in school and more flexible in their thinking. So, even if the demographic ground was not shifting beneath our feet, exposure to and mastery of different tongues would be a cognitive plus.

The outcry in response to the Coke commercial was uninformed, narrow minded, and -- dare we say it -- prejudiced. Let's grow together and build an America that can support and include all of its members. And let's continue the discussion on how to help our children thrive in the 21st century global economy where they will need to join the two-thirds of the world's population that already speak at least two languages.