What it Really Means to be American

Julia Montoya, Nicaragua —

When someone asks you where you’re from what do you say? Do you say Planet Earth? Probably not because it’s most likely that the person you’re speaking to is also from Planet Earth. (And if they’re not then that is very interesting and I would love to meet said person.) So maybe you would say America, that seems specific enough. But maybe you should think twice before you start throwing the A-word around, otherwise you might end up looking like a different type of A-word. 

This Friday all of the schools had off and we went to a teachers workshop conference. After the workshop we sat in groups and began mapping out the lesson plans for the following month (a task that the group I was in decided not to execute). I was in a group with Profe Luis, a teacher I had briefly worked with before, and some of his colleagues. They were asking us questions such as what our majors were, what we had done so far in Nicaragua, and why I didn’t eat any meat. As the conversations broke off, Profe Luis turned to me and asked “Why do you say you’re American when you’re from the United States, because we’re all American here.” In that moment two thoughts passed through my mind. They were, “I’m so sorry” and “I’m an A-word” (you can probably guess which A-word I’m referring to.) 

Profe Luis had a good point. While I don’t remember specifically saying I was American during any point of the conversation, that only cemented the fact that I have start being more mindful when I speak. I thought about it for a moment before responding and I tried to be as honest as possible. I explained that it’s just a force of habit, everyone from the United States refers to themselves as American because The United States and America are used interchangeably when talking about the place. I assured him that despite my non-existent education in Geography, I knew that Nicaragua is in America, and that there’s North America, South America, and Central America. 

In the Spanish language the word “Estadounidense” is used to describe someone from the US, as we talked I realized that there really is no single word in the English language that exists to correctly identify someone who lives in the United States. If you’re from Nicaragua you’re Nicaraguan, if you’re from Chile you’re Chilean, if you’re from Canada you’re Canadian, but if you’re from the United States you’re what…? Most people would just say American but that really isn’t true because American encompasses such a large amount of people from countries all over the world. I also realized that in Spanish the United States of America is called Los Estados Unidos, America isn’t even mentioned when referring to the place. We started playing around trying to invent a word, United Statesen? USA-ish? We came to the conclusion that nothing sounded right. I came to my own conclusion and realized that calling only people from the US American is non-inclusive, inaccurate, and disrespectful to all other Americans. But from a young age, this was never corrected, let alone discussed. In elementary school after saying the Pledge of Allegiance the song “I’m Proud to be an American” would play over the loudspeaker. I remember listening to the words and thinking “This song is about MY country” And I’m sure when Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again, he doesn’t have any plans for improving the conditions in Nicaragua. So if Webster’s Dictionary sees this post and can make a new word real quick that would be greatly appreciated.



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