National Museum of American History announces Not Lost in Translation. The Life of Clotilde Arias

National Museum of American History presents Not Lost in Translation. The Life of Clotilde Arias, an exhibition on view from Sept. 27, 2102. Through the lens of her possessions and papers—photographs, personal and professional documents, journals and objects—the exhibition looks at the life of Arias, the woman who translated the national anthem into its official Spanish version in 1945.

Immigrating to the United States in 1923 from Iquitos, Peru, Arias arrived in New York City at age 22 to study music, but had to abandon her studies to support her family. As a woman and an immigrant, Arias led an extraordinary life and is most known for her composition, “Huiracocha,” which pays tribute to an Incan deity and is in a style of music indigenous to the Andes and Peru.

Growing up in Iquitos, she demonstrated her creativity and ingenuity at an early age, writing poems and composing music. Once in New York City, Arias moved into professions that were not easily accessible to women. In the era of the creative expansion of the Harlem Renaissance, she flourished as a composer, musician, journalist, copywriter, activist and educator, as well as a mother.

Arias became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1942. Later that decade, she was working on Madison Avenue, using her skills not only to translate ad copy from English into Spanish but writing original copy and composing jingles in Spanish for American products being marketed in Latin America. Segments from these commercial jingles, created by Arias for major American companies, will be part of a featured “soundscape” in the exhibition.

In 1945, the U.S. Department of State commissioned Arias to provide an official translation of the U.S. national anthem that could be sung in Spanish. The anthem’s lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 when he saw the American flag waving over Fort McHenry at “dawn’s early light.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been translated into several languages but Arias’ 1945 version still stands as the only faithful translation of the national anthem able to be performed in Spanish to the tune of the original. This post World War II translation was seen as a way to assimilate immigrants into the United States as well as to share its values and patriotism with Central and South America. One of the museum’s treasured icons is the Star-Spangled Banner—the actual 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired Key to pen the words to what became the national anthem.

Arias’ original music manuscript for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish, “El Pendón Estrellado,” is a featured object in the exhibition. The gallery will have bilingual labels and the museum also provides Spanish-language brochures for its “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem” exhibition. Brochures are available at the visitor desks and online at:

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