Oh Susanna! [Non-Fiction]

Back in Mexico City, I attended a prestigious German School. We were one of two American families in the school at that time, since most of the student population consisted of either the children of some of the German businessmen working in Mexico City, or some of the local Mexican families who wanted their children to receive a high-quality of education. At one point, concern was raised that we weren’t becoming Mexican enough in our beloved German school, so the Mexican government decided to send some inspectors around to make sure that we were being taught the Mexican national anthem as well as some of the other local Mexican traditions. The music teacher was visibly nervous about this upcoming inspection and had us practice singing the Mexican “Mexicanos Al Grito de Guerra” National Anthem in class. She looked around to see who knew the words the best and assigned them to stand in the front when we lined up for the inspector. I was assigned to the front.

With all of the talk about the upcoming government inspection, one of the girls in my class asked me if I happened to know the American national anthem. I had to think for a moment. I actually did not. Since my barometer for all things American in those days was my mother, I thought about how it seemed like my dear mother was the USA personified in our Mexico City community. Therefore, I reasoned that the national anthem had to be something related to her. After deliberating a few moments, it dawned on me. My “Uncle Sam” mother would frequently go around the house singing “I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee . . .” That must be it! I thought to myself. The Stephen Foster melody must be the USA’s national anthem.

Most pleased with my discovery, I informed my classmate that the National Anthem of the United States of America was “Oh! Susanna”. Being young as we were, she took me at my word.


When we moved back to the USA, I was a fair skinned dark-haired little girl merely ten years of age. Much to my mother’s delight, it wasn’t long before I was accepted to sing the national anthem for one of the home games of the University of Alabama’s baseball team. So overjoyed about it was she, that my mother promptly told all of her students about it in the Spanish classes she taught on campus. She also drew the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” in large red and blue letters on a massive piece of white poster board.

On the appointed day, my mother, my little brother, and I went to the baseball stadium. I would actually be singing from the upper stands and not from in front of home plate, since that was where the older man with the microphone was. I sang with so much gusto that the eyes of the fellow who handled the microphone, widened out of surprise. He seemed quite pleased and I kept on singing away. About midway through the patriotic melody, I did take a quick glance at the huge piece of poster board my younger brother and my mother were holding up, more so as a security blanket than out of necessity since I knew the words quite well. And while my glance was a quick one, it was long enough for me to tell that my mother’s face was sparkling out of happiness. Before I knew it, I was closing my rendition of the national anthem with a proud “…and the home of the brave.”

I had come a long way since Mexico!

By Luisa Kay Reyes – Tuscaloosa, AL

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