The name “America” is based on the Latin version of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci’s (Américo Vespucio in Spanish) first name.
For a very long time, the term “American” referred to native people from the “New World” – America, or the Americas. Nevertheless, nowadays it’s just used to talk about United States citizens. Why? There’s not a clear explanation for that, since it’s probably a combination of many factors.
My guess: there’s not a word in the English language that could possibly be equivalent to the term “estadounidense” that we use in Spanish, and even if one did exist, it would sound kind of weird.
I don’t blame Americans for calling themselves Americans and, personally, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does other Latinos. What I do not understand is why Americans call the United States of America, America. Just America. I’ve always wondered why it is that when I Google pictures of America, all the stuff that shows up is pertinent to the United States of America.
Although it’s probably a simple matter of abbreviation (because, yes, the United States of America is quite a long name), many Latinos believe that Americans call the United States of America just simply America out of imperialism, because “they think they own the whole continent,” which is why it bothers them so much.
I’m not going to say that I don’t believe that myself (or that I, at least, used to), but, after thinking more deeply about it, I came to the conclusion that education could be the center of the whole predicament (since we’re all reflections of our social, political and historical context which is reinforced by the education we get). That’s the bottom line.
Schools in South America and Central America teach students that there’s one continent called America which is divided into North America, Central America and South America, but also that this division doesn’t mean they’re three different continents. They’re all part of still one big America. Living in South America, I don’t know how it’s all taught in the United States, but I’m pretty sure it’s a bit different.
Latinos are not “bitter” just because. The main reason we complain about Americans calling their country America is because we were taught from a young age that we live in a continent called America, and because we’re a part of that continent, they teach us that we’re all Americans. Therefore, when Americans call the United States of America just simply America, we feel conflicted and confused. We think, “wait, isn’t America the continent? So they think they own the whole thing now?” and we get upset because what we are seeing and hearing does not match what we have always been taught. We feel like a part of our roots and our past is being erased. In a way, we feel left out.
It’s not necessarily okay for Latinos to complain so much about the whole predicament, nor is it okay for Americans to judge us for doing so. It’s just wrong that both sides judge each other for doing so without knowing what they’re actually talking about.
So, I just want to say one thing: Americans, it’s not you, but it’s not us either. It’s the difference in how we’re taught in regards to this matter.