We are all Americans, Right?
By Christopher Ard
Click aqui para español->Todos somos Americanos…¿no?
Happy Columbus Day! or maybe it’s better to say Feliz Día de la Raza! Either way, let’s celebrate America! Land that I love. Land of the free. Home of the brave. There’s just one problem--what is America?
Most of you reading this are likely of Latin American descent. So, does that make you American? When the United States government asks for nationality, do you say American? There are many Americas, from the north to the south. There’s Spanish America and Portuguese America, and even a little French America, which together make up Latin America. But there’s also Central America, but then there’s the United States which claims the overall title of American. So then, what does America mean?
For a few years, Columbus and other European experts thought they had sailed around the world and arrived in Asia. Until that time, spices and other goods were transported across Asia and Europe. So, when Columbus landed he saw the native people and their brown skin and thought, “Oh, these are Indians.” That’s the reason why many people today still call native people Indians. It was a big mistake, based on racism and a lack of a knowledge about this new land.
Through his knowledge of the stars, descriptions of Asia, and his own mapping skills, Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer figured out that this new world was much larger than everyone suspected back in Europe and was, in fact, an entirely different continent--or two! Amerigo had figured out that what he and Columbus were exploring were North and South America, two entirely different continents. As a reward for his discovery, map makers started labeling the new world as America--the female version of Americus, Latin for his name.
Fast-forward a few years and Europeans began pouring into the new world, some with slaves. Some of these people spoke French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The largest divisions were between Brazil--where the Portuguese landed--and the rest of South America where the Spanish had a majority control.
The next division was basically right here in New Orleans, where Spanish, French, and English were spoken depending upon which part of town you were in. If you left the city to the East, you’d find the United States citizens who spoke English. Leaving the city to the West, you came across Spanish territory where they spoke Spanish. (Ever heard of the Zwolle Tamale festival in western Louisiana?) Before the Louisiana Purchase, you could say anything West and South of the Mississippi River was Latin America. Today that line is now the United States-Mexican border. But if we’re being honest, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada could all be considered part of Latin America because of cultural similarities.
Finally, there’s the most confusing part of this story--where is Central America? Central America is not a continent. It is, in fact, geologically part of the North American continent. But that’s not enough to stop everyone from making up their own definitions for Central America. The United Nations refers to Central America as all countries from Mexico to Panama. The British include parts of Mexico to Panama. The Portuguese include all the Caribbean Islands as Central America. And finally, if you say Middle America, then you’re referring to all lands from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela. To make everything more complicated, in many countries of Latin America only 5 continents are taught in schools, with America being one, though divided in 3 regions. This contradicts the teachings from other places that divide the land into 2 continents: North America and South America.
You see, America is a label applied by the Europeans to the new world--this giant land mass between Europe and Asia. They never intended for the term American to only be used by the people of the United States, and honestly, I don’t think the United States means any disrespect. Simply put, if they stop using American, is there another word in the English language to describe citizens of the United States? Maybe it’s time we invent one.