10 Popular Latin American National Anthems and Hymns
The history and culture of a nation is full of symbols. National anthems throughout the world are some of the most powerful symbols available to represent a culture.
Sometimes, these symbols are also full of contradictions and controversies. This is the case for many national anthems in Latin America. But that doesn’t diminish their value, as those contradictions are just another form of cultural expression.
Keep reading to learn more about the role patriotism plays in Latin America and how it is expressed through their national anthems. You’ll learn some interesting history about 10 of the most popular national anthems in the region.
A Word About Patriotism in Latin America
Latin American history is rich and fascinating. It started over 3,000 years ago with the Olmec culture which was based in what’s today southern Mexico and has gone through different stages of development and conflict. The most dramatic one being the arrival of the Europeans to these lands and the subjugation of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the territory.
Every modern Latin American nation can trace its origins back to their struggle for independence against these European powers. That’s the reason patriotism is so embedded in the Latin American countries’ identities. They owe their existence to this patriotism and, in many cases, they still haven’t solved some of their biggest conflicts from the past.
The Importance of National Anthems in Latin America
Most Latin American national anthems were composed in the 19th century and, as such, they express the specific political culture of that era, one of feverish patriotism and calls to defend the motherland.
Most national anthems in Latin America strive to assert a new national identity in opposition to Spain, the colonial master for over three centuries. However, this reinforces a paradox that Latin America hasn’t been able to resolve in 200 years of independent life. The fact is that Spanish culture is a major and inextricable part of Latin American culture.
10 Popular Latin American National Anthems
Now, let’s learn a bit of history and interesting facts about popular Latin American national anthems. Each section includes selected vocabulary from the lyrics. This will give you an idea of the tone of the anthems and help you continue to increase your Spanish knowledge.
Originally known as the Marcha Patriótica, the Argentinian National Anthem was born amid controversy. Was it in favor of the struggle for independence or against it? In its first stanza, the polemic line said that “Buenos Aires se opone a la frente de los pueblos…” which means that the capital was opposing the people’s front in the war against Spain.
Happily, the situation was resolved by declaring the controversy a typo, and changing “se opone” to “se pone.” By deleting one little o, the meaning of the phrase changed completely, asserting now that Buenos Aires “puts itself” at the front of the people.
la faz de la Tierra – the face of the Earth
rotas cadenas – broken chains
The first lyrics of the Chilean national anthem were written by an Argentinian writer. Considering the bad blood between many Chilean and Argentinian people, this is quite a surprise. To make matters worse, a Catalan musician composed the music for the anthem, even though he was a “hated Spaniard” and never set foot in Chile.
Dulce Patria – Sweet fatherland
asilo contra la opresión – refuge against oppression
From an early age, children in Mexico are told that their hymn is one of the most beautiful national anthems in the world, along with the French Marseillaise. I always thought that they said that in every country, but apparently in this case it’s true.
Al sonoro rugir del cañón – To the loud roar of the cannon
Un soldado en cada hijo te dio – A soldier in every son it gave you
Guatemala organized a contest to compose the lyrics of its national anthem. The winner submitted their proposal anonymously, and the anthem was surrounded by a cloud of mystery. Nearly 15 years later, the poet José Joaquín Palma revealed his identity as the author of the lyrics.
ni haya esclavos que laman el yugo – nor may slaves lick the yoke
es tu enseña pedazo de cielo – your emblem is a piece of the sky
In what has to amount to a singular case, Bolivia’s national anthem lyrics were written by one of the country’s founding fathers, José Ignacio de Sanjinés. He was a signer of both the country’s Declaration of Independence and its first Constitution.
el hado propicio – a propitious fate
¡Morir antes que esclavos vivir! – To die before we would live as slaves!
Known as ¡Oh Gloria Inmarcesible!, Colombia’s hymn contains in its title one of the most complicated words ever written in Spanish: inmarscesible. If you want to impress your Spanish-speaking friends, learn the meaning of this word and use it in the right context. The lyrics are based on a poem by a former Colombian president.
inmarcesible – unfading
la abnegación es mucha – there’s a lot of self-sacrifice
One popular greeting in Costa Rica is asking ¿cómo va la lucha? (“how goes the struggle?”), to which the only possible answer is tenaz or “tenacious.” The origin of this greeting can be traced to the country’s national anthem. That has to be the best tribute ever paid to a national anthems composer.
En la lucha tenaz, de fecunda labor – In the tenacious struggle, of fertile labor
que enrojece el hombre la faz – that reddens man’s face
To this day, it’s not completely clear who wrote Venezuela’s national anthem. However, the most accepted version establishes that the most probable authors of both the lyrics and the music fought alongside Simón Bolívar, the country’s liberator.
¡Muera la opresión! – Down with oppression!
un sublime aliento – a sublime spirit
This has to be one of the most depressing national anthems in the world. Instead of being an uplifting hymn that makes Peruvians proud, it starts with references to “cruel servitude” and “oppressed Peruvians” with a “humiliated neck.” Despite several failed attempts to change the lyrics (the most recent in 2011), the controversial phrases are still in place.
Largo tiempo el peruano oprimido – For a long time the oppressed Peruvian
la ominosa cadena arrastró – the ominous chain he dragged
One of the few Latin American national anthems that hasn’t suffered any changes since its inception, La Bayamesa was written on horseback after a victorious battle. Sadly, the author was killed by Spanish troops just two years later.
No temáis una muerte gloriosa – You all do not fear a glorious death
que morir por la Patria es vivir – because to die for the country is to live
National anthems around the world expressing the authentic sentiment of a nation. Perhaps not through their lyrics or tunes, but through their history and controversies, and Latin America is no exception.
Leave a comment about your favorite national anthem(s). We’d love to hear from you!
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