Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled “How to Piss Off an American” for a travel website. The article, and the others in the same series, were meant to be tongue-in-cheek musings on culture, so I painted myself and my fellow countrymen with the Daffy Duck paintbrush. I expected to find scores of p.o.’d Yankee Doodle Dandies whining in the comment section: We’re not like that! How dare you call us sensitive and entitled? We demand an apology! The piece went live on the site. I sat back and waited for comments.
Sure enough, the piece got a reaction. But imagine how surprised I was to find that the majority of complaint didn’t even touch on the fact that I’d basically called us a bunch of overfed brats. Instead, they zeroed in on one thing: my use of the term “American” to describe people from the United States of America.
I’ve lived in five countries. I grew up around people from many different cultures. My father’s entire family lives in Guatemala, and the vast majority of my mother’s family lives in Italy. And I swear to you; reading those comments was the first time I had ever heard anyone insinuate that calling someone from the United States “American” was somehow demeaning to the rest of North and South America.
At first, I dismissed the tirade and focused on the comments that had specifically targeted things I actually wrote about. But the “Anti-use-of-American-to-describe-Americans” comments kept coming in, so I felt obligated to give the argument some thought. Here are some thoughts I thought:
- In Italy, I am always called la americana. In Japan, I was taught to call myself amerikajin. But now that I was forced to think about it, my Guatemalan family has never called me anything but gringa. Hmm.
- Well, okay. But if it’s “wrong” to call ourselves Americans, what the heck are we supposed to call ourselves then – United Statesians? “American” is what we’re called. It’s what we’ve always been called. Mess with that, and you mess with a huge chunk of our popular culture. “Bye, Bye, Miss United Statesian Pie”? “United Statesian Psycho”? I don’t think so.
- Is clinging to a traditional name merely closed-minded thinking? After all, only 50 years ago, most minorities had different names than they do today.
- But those old names offended members that actually belonged to the minority, which is why they were changed. Is it really arrogant/offensive to call ourselves “Americans” if “America” is part of our country’s official name? It’s not like people run around calling China “The People’s Republic.” The other countries of North, Central, and South America also have names that are independent of the continent they’re part of. Their own national identity, as it were. The word “America” – as much of a blanket term as it may be – is part of ours.
- Does calling ourselves “American” mean that people from Venezuela, Canada, and the Bahamas are any less American?
- Has political correctness finally gone too far – attacking its own country of origin?
What do you think, tripwolves? What should people from the United States of America be called?