Memo From Mexico
V Dare | April 23, 2007
Is It Wrong For Us To Call Ourselves Americans?
"Although we realize that the term American is commonly used to refer to the U.S. population, we view American as including other North and South Americans as well. Therefore we have tried to limit the use of this term when referring to the United States."
These words of wisdom are from the introduction to Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society , a book that VDARE.COM columnist Athena Kerry has informed us was foisted upon education majors in her university.
So is it wrong for us citizens of the U.S.A. to call ourselves Americans?
Last year, there was a proposal in the Michigan Department of Education to prohibit the use of the term "Americans" from referring to U.S. citizens and Karen Todorov, the Social Studies advisor to the Michigan Department of Education, went so far as to assert that "It is ethnocentric for the United States to claim the entire hemisphere."
Mrs. Todorov's [ send her mail ] point of view did not carry the day at the Michigan Department of Education—not yet anyway. After the outcry over her proposal last year, Michigan Superintendent Mike Flanagan released a statement to reassure Michiganders that:
"We are not seeking to do away with the terms ‘America' or ‘American' from classroom instruction, it's not going to happen. I consider myself an American. We live in the United States of America. We are citizens of the United States of America…we're Americans." State is not Removing "America" from Classroom Instruction in Michigan , May 24, 2006
Good for Superintendent Flanagan. But, given what kinds of crazy ideas are taken seriously in education departments, Mrs. Todorov may yet be triumphant.
That "U.S. citizens are not the only Americans" is a stock argument in Mexico. It has led Mexicans to utilize different names to refer to a U.S. citizen: "estadounidense" , " norteamericano " and " gringo . "
"Estadounidense" is Spanish for "United Statesian" . It sounds ugly in both languages. That's the term I have on my FM3—the Mexican residency/work permit issued me by the Mexican government.
However, the term "Estadounidense" doesn't solve the problem. The official name of Mexico is LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS (The United States of Mexico). So technically, you could also call a Mexican an "Estadounidense" too.
Another common term for American is "norteamericano" , which refers to a U.S. citizen, in contrast to "América del Norte" , which is what we would call “North America” . The problem is, Canada is farther north than the U.S. So why are we "norteamericanos" and they aren't?
"Gringo" is a common term used to refer to Americans. It has an interesting history. It derives from Spanish griego which means "Greek" .
Remember the English saying "It's all Greek to me ? " It's apparently based on a line in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" Act I, Scene 2 "But, for my own part, it was Greek to me".
The Bard's Spanish contemporary Cervantes expressed a similar thought in his classic Don Quixote . In one passage, two laborers are at the receiving end of one of Don Quixote's discourses. As a result " Todo esto para los labradores era hablarles en griego o en jerigonza ." [Volume II, Chapter 19] ( "All this was Greek or gibberish to the laborers.")
Thus, the basic idea of "gringo" is that of a foreigner, whose native tongue sounds like gibberish. Spanish-speakers certainly understand the link between language and culture .
Being called a "gringo" doesn't offend me, since the term can be positive or negative depending on the context. Actually, I prefer it to artificially-concocted terms such as "estadounidense" or "norteamericano" .
But even in Latin America, the use of "gringo" is elastic. In Mexico it refers to an American, or sometimes a Canadian . But farther south, "gringo" can refer to any white foreigner. In Argentina , a "gringo" is any white foreigner except a Spaniard. Thus Italian immigrants were referred to as gringos.
So this brings us back to Square One. Even for Latin Americans, these substitutes for "American" don't really solve the problem. And many ordinary Mexicans aren't offended by all this and call us " Americanos " anyway. But the chattering classes and intellectuals insist on pressing the point.
In the U.S. schoolchildren are taught that there are 7 continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, North America and South America.
In Mexico, the schoolchildren are taught that there are five continents: Europa , Asia , Africa , Oceanía and América (meaning North America and South America).
For Mexicans, the term "América" refers to the entire hemisphere. So technically "Americano" refers to any inhabitant of that hemisphere.
OK, we can live with that. We have our language and they have theirs . We have our culture and they have theirs.
But the problem arises when influential Americans (meaning, U.S. citizens ) buy into the same argument—such as the educrats I cited at the beginning of this article. And what was President Bill Clinton thinking when, on a visit to Honduras in 1999, he proclaimed that "Todos somos Americanos" ( we are all Americans )? [ Clinton Hails U.S. Efforts in Storm Zone , By Charles Babington, Washington Post , March 10, 1999]
I'd like to point out some reasons why we, as English-speaking citizens of the United States of America, should not hesitate from nor apologize for calling ourselves Americans.
Mature people understand that the same word can have different connotations in different contexts. When we say " Columbus discovered America " we are talking about the Western Hemisphere, when we sing "God Bless America" we are singing about the U.S.A.
In Mexico there a number of cities and states with the same name. For example, Chihuahua (the city) is capital of Chihuahua (the state). But the residents of either the city or state are called chihuahenses (The dog breed we call a Chihuahua is a chihuahueño , don't confuse that with chihuahense ).
Is that confusing? It can be, but Mexicans usually infer what a speaker means from the context.
In South America there is a nation known as Ecuador . In Spanish, the word " ecuador " means "equator" . Now, is Ecuador the only nation located on the equator? No, it most certainly is not. Does that mean every other single nation on the equator should be offended by the name? Frankly, I've never heard anybody gripe about it.
Is Iceland the only country with ice? Is Costa Rica the only nation with a "rich coast?"
Many national names have meanings which could apply to numerous countries. They don't abandon their national name in fear of offending people.
Aside from Spanish-speakers (and to a lesser extent Portuguese-speakers), few people in the world complain about us calling ourselves Americans. The Arabs, a number of whom aren't exactly fond of the U.S.A., have no objection to calling us the Arabic equivalent of "American" . In Iraq, where I recently did a tour of duty , they call us "Amrikan" (Americans). When I served as a liaison NCO with the Italian Army , I was an "Americano" , the Italians didn't have a problem with that.
Basically, it's only a vocal and influential contingent of Spanish-speakers who have a problem with it.
It's important to point out, though, that we U.S. citizens are the only people in the Western Hemisphere who call ourselves Americans as a nationality. Nobody else does—they're Mexicans, Costa Ricans etc.
Not only that, but we have been referred to as "Americans" since before U.S. Independence. ( Samuel Johnson, for example, called us Americans in 1774.)
The linguistic ramifications of "America" and " América " are interesting. They could make for a lively and good-natured after-dinner conversation with a Latin American friend. A language, after all, has its own world view. To provide a trivial example: while in English cats are said to have nine lives, in Spanish they are only said to have seven lives. Will Spanish cats sue us for discrimination?
But there's more at work here. In today's environment, there is something else going on, that makes this more than simply a linguistic oddity.
In today's environment, the bellyaching about the term "American" is being used, consciously or unconsciously, to strip us of our identity, to de-nationalize us.
Consider for example, some of the signs brandished by protestors last May 1 st , during the illegal alien protests.
One sign declared "America is a continent and not a country." (It's the ninth photo on Michelle Malkin's The Pictures You Won't See . ) This sign is not making a geographical statement, but a sociopolitical one. It's a form of culture war. The message is that the U.S. has no right to control its own borders and prevent anybody from Latin America from entering.
If everybody in the hemisphere is an "American" in the exclusive sense, then there's nothing special about U.S. citizenship. Some who forbid us from calling ourselves Americans have an agenda—the Latinization of the United States, our transformation into an appendage of Latin America.
If everybody in the hemisphere is an "American" , and if we are forbidden to call ourselves Americans in a nationalistic sense, then everybody in the hemisphere has the right to live in the U.S.A. and transform the country.
Will the U.S. remain a sovereign nation, or will it become an appendage of Latin America? Will it be subsumed into some kind of continental or hemispheric union?
Maybe—if we lose the psychological battle first and are intimidated out of our own identity.
President George Washington exhorted his countrymen in his Farewell Address that
"The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations."
Others can call us what they will. But we ourselves should unabashedly call ourselves Americans.
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