Since traveling the last five months, I’ve been asked well over 100 times in conversations where we are from. In an attempt to sound casual, my first response has always been “we’re from the States.” No less than 95% of the faces of the questioners has yielded a dumbfounded look, which has required me to clarify with “the United States.” This, in the vast majority of responses, does nothing to better the situation. At which point, I either elaborate further and state “the United States of America” or just simply “America” and see the lights go on and the gears finally churning in the mind of the person who asked the question. I realize a handful of other countries technically have “states,” but none of them refer to themselves as the United States.
Regardless of where we’ve traveled (29 countries thus far), I’ve consistently needed to use “America” as my awkward response to this question. Perhaps my Peace Corps experience allowed me to understand early on that Honduras was also a nation of America, or Central America specifically, and Sarah reported the incredulous response Ecuadorians have if someone from the U.S. suggests they are “American.” I’m not looking to correct anyone or preach, but America, or Americas, are defined as the entire land mass that spans from the Nunavut Territory of Canada to Cape Froward in Chile. Within this mass, there is South America, Central America, and North America. Canada, Mexico, and the United States make up the region of North America. I know many people know this already, but referring to the United States as America still seems pretty weird to me…especially in light of the recent use of the slogan, “Make America Great Again!”
There have been several articles and blogs commenting on the “Great Again” portion of the slogan with some folks asking how it was great in the first place and others demonstrating that it’s always been great. I’m a bit more perplexed about the “America” aspect of the slogan. If we agree that America is really made up of a total of 55 countries, then I think our current President is facing a bit of a quandary in his mission of “Making America Great Again.” If Mexico (and presumably the 52 other countries south of it) require a wall, shouldn’t we also maybe (tongue in cheek) consider walling off pesky states like California or the annoying urban sanctuary cities? Conversely, wouldn’t people from the other 54 countries of the Americas also be considered American by this definition? Would deportation of undocumented people from those 54 other American countries still be considered deportation?
Why is it that we and so many people from around the world use “America” to describe the United States? I believe it’s probably because Hollywood dominates the majority of the world’s entertainment. They’ve somehow reinforced the imperial notion that the great U.S. of A is the same as “America” or “the Americas” (the bulk of the western hemisphere or half of the world, depending on how one looks at it). I’d like to think this was unintentional, but when leaders of our country refer to the United States as “America,” I think we not only do a disservice to 54 other countries of the Americas, but also to the United States. It’s important to note here that both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had used the term “Make America Great Again” before the current President.
Another plausible reason we refer ourselves as Americans is because we haven’t been able to come up with a term for ourselves. I’ve heard “Gringos,” “Imperialists,” “Yankees,” and “Infidels” used to define people from the United States, but it sure seems like we could have come up with something on our own better than “Americans.” Seems lame and lazy on our part. Perhaps we could just refer to ourselves as “Greats” and kill two birds with one stone. “Hi, I’m John Smith and I’m GREAT.”
I’m making light of this slogan in part because I find it an incredibly ignorant on many levels. Since traveling, I realize we of the good ol’ U.S of A have a lot of good things going for us despite our many flaws. Without a doubt, we should be striving to make the U.S. of A better on race discrimination, economic equity, a stronger economy, education, housing, less dependent on fossil fuels, ensuring everyone has a chance to achieve the United States of American dream, etc. We’ve never been GREAT before on all of these things. We’ve been good and may have been #1 at some of these things at one point in time in history, but not all of them all of the time.
Not only do I feel we are dismissive of the other 54 countries in the Americas by referring to the United States of America as “America,” but also think that we are unintentionally dismissing many of our accomplishments by not taking pride in what it took to become the United States. It took a lot to create this nation, and in many ways (especially in light of Brexit), it takes much more to maintain it. I would think that our current President would have monopolized on this notion in light of his nationalistic and isolationistic vision by focusing more on the United States part of the country vs. the America part of his campaign.
I would like to think that dissecting MAGA in light of changes in the United States of America and perceptions that that world has of us is timely. Traveling is providing me a new perspective and I love the opportunity to observe new things, from different angles, and question how we got here.