“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!