“Tu Vuò Fà L’Americano” by Renato Carosone
(You pretend to be American)
We American expats must occasionally suffer South Americans objecting to our English-language use of the word, “American,” to describe ourselves or anything else from the United States. They insist that they too are Americans.
This obsession doesn’t exist throughout Latin America. In Peru and Mexico, for example, the most common word used for American is in fact “americano.” But in Argentina and Colombia, among others, it’s either “norteamericano” or “estadounidense,” with a bit of superiority thrown in for petulance sake.
Their logic’s simple enough for anyone who made it to 3rd-grade geography. Whatever country they’re from is in South America (you never get this from Caribbeans or Central Americans), so they’re Americans too.
Unfortunately this leaves no adjective in the English language to describe people or things from the United States. In Spanish, there is the word, “estadounidense” (if you look up estadounidense on WordReference, you’ll see the English translation is “American”).
“Norteamericano” or “North American” must be disqualified on the same grounds that these self-righteous pricks protest our use of “American” … North America includes more than the United States. Namely Canada, Mexico and all the city-states and islands north of Colombia. It’s even less correct to say “North American” in English because then people will think you’re referring to the continent, a larger region than just the United States.
And trust me, the Canadians do NOT want to be called Americans. Nor do the Mexicans, but the Canadians would be most opposed.
I’m with you on “estadounidense” in Spanish, great word. The problem is we don’t have an equivalent in English. What are other options do we have? United Statian? Get real. U.S. American? Good luck with that.
It’s our forebears’ fault for not coming up with a more specific. I’m sorry you’re unhappy about that, but that’s how it is. But I didn’t create the world, I’m just living in it.
I’ll pose a question to all the South Americans who disagree. When you go abroad and someone asks you where you’re from, what do you say? You don’t say “America” … of course not. You proudly name your country. And you’ve never told anyone you’re “American” unless you’re being annoying with this fucking pointless argument.
Want to debate this in the major leagues of internet debating? Here’s the first sentence from the Wikipedia page for Names for US Citizens:
People from the United States of America are known as and refer to themselves as Americans.
Try to edit it and watch your change reverted to something like it is above. Make your argument on the talk page. Enter the ring, note the blood of your defeated predecessors on the canvas.
I love Latin America. I choose to live there for over 10 years. We share a common history. We have strong traditions of democracy and free speech (for the most apart). I’m proud of what we have in common. Like time zones.
But that’s what this comes down to, your inferiority complex. The Spanish and Portuguese had their first pick in the New World and took the best lands with plenty of natives to enslave. But their inferior political and economic systems held them back while the superiority of American democracy left you all behind and, for much of the world, irrelevant.
It’s important to underscore that Latin America is not irrelevant to me or anybody reading this blog. We love you, and there is hope. Other people are starting to love Latin America too. Reggaeton is blowing up, the world wants Bad Bunny!
But “American” is the word. Don’t fight it. At best you’re pissing into the wind. At worst you’re like the Englishmen who insist they’re not “gringos” because they’re not from the United States. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be a prick!
I’ve moderated my position. When discussing Spanish history, you’ll have to use “americanos” to describe those Spanish subjects born in the colonies, as opposed to the “peninsulares” who enjoyed unequal rights under the eyes of the law. Outside modern-day Peru, most countries didn’t exist. There were no Colombians or Venezuelans in the 18th century. There were no Mexicans. But throughout, there was a legal divide between the, ahem, American-born Spaniards and the native-born. When talking Spain’s golden age, you can’t get around using “American” in the pan-American sense.
This piece was published at the end of my third year in South America. I still had a lot to learn. In time I think I found the root of the problem. Geography is taught differently. Growing up in the United States, I learned there are seven continents. Maybe you did too.
In the Spanish-speaking world, I noticed that some schools teach there are only six. One of them is “America.” There is no North or South America in that school, only America. It’s larger than Africa and spans from the Arctic to Patagonia.
If you understand continents that way, I could see how a Colombian would take issue with the coopting of the word, “American.” Like a Frenchman would take issue with a Belgian calling himself a “European” instead of a “Belgian” … wait, no I don’t see that. They wouldn’t care. Nobody would fucking care.
You’re still a dumb ass with an inferiority complex, but this difference in geography education helps explain it. We understand you. We feel your pain. We care a lot.
But we’re not all Americans, you dumb asses … not in English!
i got the “we’re all americanos” lecture from an argentine lady (a university professor) after telling her i was american. she seemed a bit hot about it and not knowing if other argentines felt strongly abou tthis, i started using “norteamericano”. but like you point out this means i subsequently have to clarify i’m not canadian. never tried estatounidense but it sounds ridiculous. i’m going back to americano. fuck it.
yup these fucker are 20 to 30 years behind AMERICA in all ways shapes and form but i guess you get that from relaxed ppl . IN Chavezland i was asked I was asked EVERY five minutes if I was AMERICAN so whats up with this shit . It about as bad as arguing politics or religion though so i dont bother about it where you t these days lets go get a job in BRAZIL and leave these AMERICANS alone
sudamericano would be more appropriate for south america but no one uses that either… but its not american as useless as the word is like you already pointed out it means from united states.
You have to understand that there are bigger issues at hand here, that are not always perceivable by “USamericans” (or whatever you want to be called), it’s not just about vocabulary:
– You say that the US and latin America have always had close links, true. But just like Europe and North Africa, ever since the Monroe doctrine, these links have never been equal and the US-L.A relation has always been a dominant/dominated one. To put it bluntly and simply, for years (a bit less nowadays), L.A has been the US’ poor, third world backyard where it had economical and political interests and could act as pleased. The reverse was not true of course, no US government was ever overthrown because it wasn’t good enough for Brazil/Venezuela/Mexico/Peru etc.
– “America” is not just a word used to communicate. It has very deep historical implications, things that are considered common between the US and L.A countries. But because of this power issues that I just mentioned above, the US just sort of “took for itself”. (sorry if I am not clear, english is not my first language)
-> Hence “America” also carries implicit meanings, both positive and negative, but that are found everywhere in the western hemisphere. America implies “New World” (as a European, I was very surprised to hear people in Peru tell me I came from the “viejo continente”, the old world), colonization, slavery, indigenous contact and confrontations with Europeans, immigration, vast empty ‘free’ land etc.
So when Latinos say they are “americans”, it’s absolutely not about third grade geography. It’s about this complex historical relation between L.A and the US, it’s a way for them to say “you are not superior to us”.
PS: By the way, most of the latinos that I have met here in Europe (mostly France and Spain) refer to themselves as Americanos.
Ash, I’m well aware of US misbehavior in Latin American issues. See my post on the US-backed coup in Guatemala.
“So when Latinos say they are ‘americans’ … it’s a way for them to say ‘you are not superior to us'” – exactly my point in saying their agenda is LAME.
Again, in English, ‘American’ is the only adjective to describe people or things from the United States despite any real or imagined inferiority complex in countries outside the US.
Yeah, decades ago when I first moved to Mexico, I got the “America starts in Canada and ends in Chile” speech when I claimed to be American. Fuck ’em.
I’ve always thought it as silly, Colin. And I agree it is a vain attempt at saying “Your country is no more better than ours.”
It’s usually some smartass trying to make a pedantic point. I prefer ‘gringo’ anyway.
“exactly my point in saying their agenda is LAME.
Again, in English, ‘American’ is the only adjective to describe people or things from the United States despite any real or imagined inferiority complex in countries outside the US.”
Sorry, with all due respect I don’t buy that argument.
Languages are not god given, they are human constructs who evolve with time and context. A language can also can very well be imperfect and translate a dominant-dominated relation by the way it’s grammar or vocabulary works.
So it’s not because at this point in time in english “American” is the only word “USamericans” use to refer to themselves that it will always be so, that it is natural or that it is “right”. Maybe one day this L.A “agenda” will gain ground and just “American” will not be how you call yourselves anymore. Just like the civil rights movement in your country managed to make “nigger” give way to “african-american”.
But more generally, if you look at history names and how people call themselves and others have always been highly symbolical issues. Especially when people live under one form of domination or another. A name is sometimes the most basic and visible element of an identity.
Anyways I’m not American (in any sense of the word), so all of this is not really my business. But as a semi-outsider I don’t really find the whole thing lame.
Does seem silly to me. I do respect that were all american from america’s. But to argue with an american that were all americans is silly. I just say I’m from California which cause’s more problems! Many people think Californians feel superior to other americans; which then feel superior to others from america’s. I think everyone should stop being so god damned sensitive! Sensitivity is one of my major annoyances! Just stop crying about everything people.
There is a California in Mexico, too
“They’re [sic] logic’s..?” Who you calling dumb?
I always just say estoy de los estados unidos.
And Ash, aside from professors talking to their debate theory classes, 99% of the latins that use “American” do it without much thought, because they heard a friend say it. That why they say or do almost everything they say or do.
We are all Americans; it isn’t about geography but history. Let’s go back in time, where did the continent get its name from?
The continent was named in honor to Amerigo Vespucci (in Spanish Americo) around 1507. He came up with the idea the new lands he had visited weren’t part of Asia but were part of a New World. So Spaniards settlers called the people from the new world Americans (americanos).The terms America and American were exclusively used for the continent and the people. This was when the USA didn’t exist nor as a colony nor as country. The name of the country was taken from the continent hence OF America. Spaniards and Portuguese settlers had referred to people as Americans way before any English settlers use it for themselves. So when the USA was established as a country the term americanos was already widely used all over Latin America.
The problem is about terminology. Here we tend to think of America as a sole continent, for it is one piece of land, then in Spanish we can call ourselves americanos. In other parts of the world they tend to divide America into north, south and center, which makes it a lot easier to determine which name to assign to each group of people. When I say it in Spanish (my mother language) I usually think of Americans as people from the whole continent, but I never actually refer to myself as an American I leave that name for my fellow friends gringos. After all, it’s just a freaking name. And I think it is curious that when you ask and american person where they’re from they’d just answer with the city or state where they come from, so even for americans the term lacks meaning. I’m proud to be Colombian and if you ask me I’ll say Colombian.
I guess you could start calling yourself US American, or maybe use the name of the state you are from.
Mari your explanation doesnt make any damn sense. its all bs and for one it starts when you mention continent because south and north america are two separate continents. they are two separate halfs of the world. its like saying if russia and australia were somehow joined together by some small strip of land you can call them both australia or both russia. shit doesnt work like that honey………
This story was clearly written by a Canadian or an English person. Only Canadians morons and the retarded British have this ridiciculous dislike toward Americans. Nobody else gives a flying shit whether someone is Swedish, Irish, or American. But its always the same fucking story from the same fucking Canadians and English. JEALOUS!!!! We Americans dont give a flying shit about Canadians….nothing good, nothing bad. They are just another race of people. And English are pissed because NOBODY in Europe likes them…..Grow up whoever wrote this artice….it doesnt matter where you are from or whether someone calls you american or not. What matters is what kind of person you are…..ad you, whoever wrote this article, is clearly an ignorant, stupid dumbfuck.
Matthew I am sorry to tell you but Mari makes total sense. Please read this:
From there I quote: “The earliest known use of the name America for this landmass dates from April 25, 1507, where it was used for what is now known as South America.”
By that time no one gave a damn about north America and they didn’t even know the entire extension of the continent or continents. Also you can see in the same section how the name was not accepted by the Spanish at the very beginning.
I agree with Colin that in English the proper way to name the people from the US is American but in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and maybe other languages the sum of North, Central and South America is called America. And that is not to say that I want to be part of the US it is because the entire continent was named that way.
Borders are a social construct and change with time: for the ancient Greeks would be unthinkable to call the germanic tribes Europeans. In Roman times their empire included north Africa let me know now how many Morrocans, Libyans and Egiptians can enter the EU without problems.
The US became the main power in the Americas and took the name for themselves. The rest of the countries were a mere afterthough in Europe, so good for you.
Now, the US can keep the name. For all I know in the future it will extend its power to all the current countries in the Americas, like if we can do something about it.
But please do not say or think most of us use the word America as the name of the entire continent because we are willful or ignorant. There are historic reasons.
I am almost certain that with more time even in Spanish more latinamericans will use the word America and Americans just to talk about the Us and its inhabitants, all because of cultural influence and globalization.
Personally I will try to respect each language and tradition and use America in one way in English and in other way in Spanish. My goal is to be understood not to call everyone around me ignorant.
But Colin, and all you fellow americans, whenever you get offended by the spanish speaking use of “Americano” remember all the times that people from your country use the words ColUmbia and ColUmbians to talk about the country and it’s citizens when in English the proper way also uses an O.
Only one person in twenty on this planet is an American.
Less than that. 1 in 25.
Everybody from Canada to Chile is American. They are right. You are wrong.
The problem is not that Colombians are not Americans; it is that your country doesn´t have a name.
The solution is not to try to convince people who are very obviously Americans that they are not Americans. The solution would be to get yourselves a name. It can´t be that hard, surely – even dogs and bugerigars have names.
allen craig: I always just say estoy de los estados unidos.
try saying soy de los estados unidos
Totally agree with William Cordoba. Really, not the rest of America’s problem that you have no word for yourself in your own language.
I think the problem, like many problems with Americans, stems from it’s (many times justified: “Assclown“) stereotype of egotistical, self centered and ignorant gringos.
The problem is not really about the word “Americans”, (yes: because in the broader sense we are all Americans, whether northern, central or southern). many people who inhabited Latin America in the past were called “Americanos” by the Spanish and it started there…
But here the case is much deeper, when estadounidenses come to Colombia and say “a m e r i c a n” Colombians may feel offended because it is perceived as a demonstration of ignorance and a violation to the Colombian broader identity: “how in this world can they not see that we Latinos are also Americans, did they not attend grade school?“
Colombians get offended because not wanting to share the word “American” comes off to Colombians, as stating that the whole American continent is US property, (true almost in foreign debt thanks to not so good US policy!) and Colombians just like Peruvians and Mexicans have a right to their nationality that whether we like it or not are placed in the same hemisphere . Colombians may not understand how and why this word is so important to estadounidenses, how styles of art and music and national pride stem from this one word. But I think our US forefathers may have had a bit of a slip up but not making sure to include a minor description before the word America, like: English-America, or protestant-America, who knows? They at least did so with the word “Spanish America” and named the large minority in the US Hispanos. So I say to US-Americans, let’s also see that indeed the people of iberoamerica have the right to feel a little disenfranchised. We can also explain, as it was posted, that we do not have a word for estadounidense and hope they have understanding of our dilemma, US-Americans who still bare the derogatory word given to us by our European predecessors and that we will cherish to the end of times.
P.S I always say I’m from Wisconsin, I like their confused faces.
Actually gringo is an American… if you’re european and people call you gringo in latin america is perhaps under the assumption that you’re an American.
Remember that latin america was colonzied by europe and there were many european migrants there up until not long ago…. the average latin american knows quite well the difference between europe and the US.
I have to disagree with Colin here, although I do understand the just of his point. One of the problems of his point has already been mentioned, history. The other point is context.
If I am in the US or Colombia, I will say that I am from Holland. A person with adequate knowledge of geography knows that there is no such country in the world. The country that is referred to is the Netherlands. Yet, most people abroad are not aware of the difference, assuming that they even know the name the Netherlands. A funny thing is that in Colombia the proper name los Payes Bajos does not explicitly refers to the Netherlands but to the Low Lands, with includes Belgium and the Netherlands. In this case the world-wide ignorance about the difference between these two names is largely historical. So when you refer to my country of origin as Holland (or Ollanda), fine, I’ll take your ignorance.
But the answer that someone gives upon the question ‘where are you from’ is dependent on the region you are in and the language you are using.
If I meet a US citizen in Europe and I ask this person where (s)he is from, (s)he will most likely answer the US. I can continue asking.
Where in the US?
Still not really an answer is it?
Where in the California?
Well, in the Bay Area?
Great, we are almost there.
Where in the Bay Area?
Hmm, isn’t that more like the outer-parts of the Bay Area, across the hills into the Central Valley, so not really the Bay Area, but close to it?
Only to a person who knows the region can make such a remark, whereas to anyone else, Fairfield is just in the Bay Area.
Yet, if I am in the US and someone asks me where I am from, I will say Europe, knowing that most US citizens are not really familiar with the smaller countries that make up Europe. If they continue asking, I will say Holland. To which I frequently hear that they have been there. They love Copenhagen (which is in Denmark).
It is not import to a person where someone if from, unless the person feels a certain connection to a certain region or simply knows the region. If you are in Colombia and you speak English, yes, American is the only used term for a US citizen, because English lacks a differentiating term. The language is here the problem, not the person using the language. At the same time, a Colombian will feel that (s)he is as much an American, b/c (s)he also lives in the meta-continent America. Yet, b/c (s)he is in Colombia, (s)he will not refer to himself as American, but Colombian or Bogotano or where ever (s)he might be from.
So making the statement that only US citizens are American would not only be wrong when in Colombia (although linguistically correct), in the mind of the Colombian it could very well confirm the world-wide perception of the American, they are ignorant, arrogant, and indifferent to other countries and regions. Yet, it is (still) the biggest superpower on the planet and therefore expected to go above and beyond. A double moral. Sure, but this does not mean that people will take some form of offence if you claim you have the sole right to call yourself an American, just because you are a US citizen in America, yet you are not in the US, but Colombia.
Of course, the use of the term American referring to the US is another problem and sort of intertwines with the use of the term American.
Hey I agree with you. I am an American damn it! In fact I just had this discussion on Monday with some English girl.
Enjoy your blog.
Not all Americans are stupid.
Statistically speaking, there should be a few that are close to average intelligence.
When I think of true Americans, Deliverance comes to mind.
Want to troll and talk smack about the US? Do it on the Boycott America challenge. See if you can do it.
Want to troll and talk smack about the US? Do it on the Boycott America challenge. See if you can do it.
Sounds like baby wants his bottle…
So, in conclussion you are americans just because…get over yourselves
I’m with Colin on the language divide: In Spanish, apparently “americano” is used to refer to people from N. or S. America, at least among those who like to get their knickers in a twist over such things. So, ok, fair enough. Your language, your rules.
In English, though, “American” refers to someone from the US. We don’t have a word for “New Worlders” because THAT CONCEPT NEVER COMES UP. Maybe it’s more important in Spanish because of the distinction between Spanish speakers from LA and Spanish speakers from Spain (or maybe it’s just the massive LA inferiority complex).
But it’s not an important concept in English. So we don’t have a convenient word for it. Just like Spanish doesn’t have a convenient (official) word for people from the U.S. — “norteamericano” suffers from all the problems attributed to “americano”, and “estadounidense” is a joke.
In short: Don’t presume to tell us how our language should work, thank you very much. All languages are pretty irrational if you look at them closely enough, and this blatantly political nitpicking does nothing to enrich the world.
FWIW, most of the really excitable people I’ve met on this topic have been Argentine. Make of that what you will.
People ask, I tell em I am from Texas. Half the people tell me they have a cousin who went there for work and the other half say, “Texas California!”
But everybody has heard or Texas. Though most people just refer to me as flaco, chele or gringo.
The name of the people comes from the name of the country. People from USA are called Americans because the country is named United States of America. Likewise, Mexicans, for Estados Unidos de Mexico. Colombians for Estados Unidos de Colombia. For Argentinians, Republica de Argentina. Etc. Case closed.
Do tell..you know what a European, African, or Asian “looks like”? Africa includes dark as hell pygmies, basically white North Africans..Asia has dark South Indians and white North Chinese..and former Soviet Union republics.