Introducing The Next Generation Of Leaders And Thinkers

Reminder: The United States Is Not America

The United States of America is a land mass made up of 48 states (plus Alaska and Hawaii) on the continent of North America. Out of the seven continents on Earth, two of them contain “America” in their names: North America and South America. North America is made up of Canada, the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. South America is roughly 6.8 million square miles made up of, well, South America.

But you probably knew all of that.

When you go to the United States, the people who you meet who live there are commonly called “Americans”. However, go into the country directly south of the United States, and you will find people who you would call “Mexican”. Head north, and you’ve got “Canadian”.

Why is it that the United States is the country that takes control of the “American” name when there are 34 other countries and many other territories in North and South America?

The United States has made a name for itself as an imperialist being in the Western Hemisphere, and beyond. Right now, the United States holds 16 territories, and have held much more in the past. Just think. The Philippines, now the twelfth most populous nation in the world, was under United States control until 1946. Referring to the United States simply as “America” and people who live in the United States as “American” is a product of United States imperialism. In the U.S. we believe that we have some social right to “America”. Since throughout history we have been entitled to all the land that we have desired, we must be entitled to any name we desire, right?

Wrong.

One of the main arguments against abandoning the use of “American” in place of some other descriptor is grammar. Many other languages have words that describe specifically people who live in the United States. For example, in Spanish, you would say “Estadounidense”.  In English, there is no word that describes someone who lives in the United States. It is not grammatically correct to call someone “United Statesian”. That just doesn’t currently exist.

But language is created and changed by those who speak it.

In order to make a meaningful change in the imperialistic mindset of the United States, there must be a culture shift by means of language. Switching language practices are not simple. However, America is not just the United States. America is the countries, territories, languages, and people that make up North and South America. And one of the only ways that this can be made clear is through acknowledgment by people of the United States that we are not the only ones. 

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