I Don’t Call Myself An American

I just saw a photo on Facebook: I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I’m an American and I want my country back.

I was going to keep my mouth shut, but this American thing has been griping me for a long time. The following diatribe is not a political commentary but a semantical one. (I don’t want arguments, but I’m already getting one — I’m writing this on MSWord, and MS says there is no such word as semantical and there definitely is such a word.)

I have no politics, but I am a word lover, and I believe in using proper terms.

Everyone from the top of Canada to the tip of South America is an American. We who live in the United States are OF America. We are not America, nor are we the only Americans, though somewhere along the way, the term was usurped by people in this country for their sole use, perhaps because Unitedstatesian is awkward.

We were never supposed to be Unitedstatesians, anyway — we were supposed to be Coloradans and Minnesotans and Oregonians. Each state was to be a strong political entity, a sovereign territory loosely united under a weak central government. That is not how things have ended up and that is not the issue here (though anyone who has read my books knows how I feel about strong central governments). The point is that we in the United States are not Americans. Or rather, the United States is not “America.” We don’t even have our own continent. We share the North American Continent with Mexico, Canada, and Central America. In fact, in Europe (or so I’ve read), North America is not even considered a continent in its own right — it’s a subcontinent of America. So most Americans are not even “American.” Although the United States is the most populous of the American countries by far, most Americans are actually Peruvians and Canadians, Brazilians and Panamanians, Mexicans and Columbians.

I don’t call myself an American. The term is too general to have any meaning, and it is too ethnocentric. Despite what my fellow Unitedstatesians believe, The United States of America is not the center of the world, though geographically, it might be in the center of the American continent. But still, that is no reason to act as if we are the only Americans.

You say you’re an American and you want your country back? What country is that?

22 Responses to “I Don’t Call Myself An American”

  1. Donna B. Russell Says:

    How about takiing the initials for United States of America and calling ourselves USAns (pronounced us’nz). 😉 I don’t like labels of any kind applied to people (though I would like GM foods labeled, but that’s another discussion); but if I had to pick a geographical label, I’d call myself a Vermonter b/c that’s where I was born and have lived my life, and that is what I consider home.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      What’s even more bizarre to me is how so many USAns define themselves by the countries their great-great-grandparents come from. You ask people who were born here what their nationality is, and they give you their forebear’s nationality. Maybe, after all, it’s not so bad claiming to be Americans. At least we’re on the right side of the ocean.

      • Donna B. Russell Says:

        Re: people defining themselves by the countries of ancestry, I agree. After the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a very powerful ad on TV showing people of all races, ethnicities, creeds, economic status, geographical location, age, etc., each of which said simply, “I am an American.” Yet, all too soon, people were back to saying Irish-American, African-American, etc., even if they were born here. Everyone who was born here is a native American (from the online dictionary: “being the place or environment in which a person was born or a thing came into being: one’s native land.”), yet that designation is used to refer to the people who were here before Europeans arrived on the scene). Considering the melting pot that makes up most of our genealogical background, the labels can become unwieldy. For example, I would be a Native-Franco-British-Scottish-German-American (and there may be a smattering of other things in there, too). Then we further complicate the mess with political labels, religious labels, economic labels, labels as to class, education, job type, etc. And, as you said, those labels often define us, and usually do so inaccurately. So, I’m with you. The only label I care to have is my name. If someone wants to know what my religious or political views are, ask me. But don’t assume you know me because of some label. Great discussion, Pat.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Donna, You’ve mentioned another gripe of mine — Native American. I’m a native American — though grandparents came from Europe, I was born here in the Americas. Calling the American Aborigines “Native Americans” is no more accurate than calling them “Indians.” I like the Canadian term — “First Nations.”

          Labels are for consumer products, not people.

          This has been a good discussion. Thank you for stopping by to talk.

  2. margosnotebook Says:

    Its refreshing to have someone from the States point out this discrepancy, making this claim seems to be culturally entrenched in the mindsets of so many people living in the US and comes across (as one from the other end of the world) as both ethnocentric and egocentric. I am always amazed on my visits how isolated US citizens are (I know this is a generalisation and I know people who don’t fall into this) from what is happening elsewhere and how this ‘we are the centre of the world’ is evident in media etc., a viewpoint encapsulated in ‘I’m an American’.

    Thanks for your posts I’ve been enjoying them all

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make a good point — people in the US are isolated. We have two remote land borders and two ocean borders. It’s no wonder we forget how much a part of the world we are.

  3. Kathy Bertone Says:

    Well now you’ve gone and done it. I was about to “unfriend” you (or is it “unblog” you?) about two paragraphs in, but then I read the part about the states (capital “S”) and strongly agree that the United States is first and foremost a melting pot of different peoples all living in different States, held together by (in my opinion) a too strong and overly intrusive central government. And I’m not saying that because of who is currently in the White House, I say that because politics is dividing this country and making us all stupid, and upset, and angry. I agree that America is more than the 50 we all know and love, and you are right, of course, that America is a continent. But with that said I must say I do love the premise of the FB’ers: “We want America back.” How about, “I am a citizen of the United States and I want my country back?” We are still a country, right? The people of this country are better than what is (and has been) happening to it, in so many different ways, and we want to stop it. I think the sentiment being expressed it that we have lost control, and we want the control back. And control has nothing to do with who you vote into political office. It comes from within and then branches out to our families and our communities, as it always has, in this country that we love so very much are so afraid of losing. I appreciate your post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Kathy, I like that term you coined — “unblog.” I’m glad you didn’t unblog me. I’ve liked seeing your perspective on things. You are so right — people in this country deserve more than what has been happening to them.

  4. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Unitedstatesian; now that’s something I would likely to see catch.

  5. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I used to call people from the United States of America Yanks. The term comes from the American Civil War and, at the time, only referred to the northern troops and their kin and not the Confederates. After the war it came to encompass the whole population of the USA.

    The term was popularized in the 1917 song ‘Over There’. It’s by George M. Cohan.

    Johnny get your gun, get your gun. Take it on the run, on the run, on the run. Hear them calling you and me, Every Son of Liberty. Hurry right away, no delay, go today. Make your Daddy glad to have had such a lad. Tell your sweetheart not to pine, To be proud her boy’s in line.
    Verse 2
    Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun. Johnny, show the “Hun”[3] you’re a son-of-a-gun. Hoist the flag and let her fly Yankee Doodle[4] do or die. Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit. Yankee[5] to the ranks from the towns and the tanks.[6] Make your Mother proud of you And the old red-white-and-blue[7]
    Over there, over there, Send the word, send the word over there That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming The drums rum-tumming everywhere. So prepare, say a prayer, Send the word, send the word to beware – We’ll be over, we’re coming over, And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

    Nowadays the term Yank is seen as politically incorrect and is thus frowned on. Every once in a while, though, I like to use it to stir up the politically correct and also to tell them the history of the word. In Australia we owe the Yanks some gratitude for what they did for us in WW2. Also Yanks fought along side Aussies in 1918 in the so-called war to end all wars.

    Meanwhile there is the term Pom for the British. It is an Australian term for the British that came out of cricket and is nowadays frowned on as politically incorrect. A few years ago I had some fun with a politically correctness minded young lady behind the counter of a second hand shop that sold DVDs. The owner would occasionally get some nice collections of BBC science fiction in which I was eager to purchase. Well, when ever I was in the shop I would ask if there was anything new in of this sort. And when this young lady was serving behind the counter I would always refer to it as ‘pommy’ DVDs or movies or television shows. I enjoyed driving her crazy. He hates the British because he keeps referring to them as Poms but he loves British movies and television shows. Does not compute! Does not compute! Actually I had an uncle who was a proud Pom as well as a grandfather. I never told her because if I had her head might have exploded.

    Language can be a funny thing. And yes I do agree with you that America does take in more territory than the USA. Even so, I am easy. If people from the USA wish to regard and refer to themselves as Americans that is fine with me.

  6. Paige Nolley Says:

    Made me smile. Thank you.

    I’ve always thought of myself as a Texan first, Unitedstatesian (hah!) second. I’m still learning to be an Alaskan.

    Whatever happened to simply being an earth citizen, or earthling, or earther? Globalization interests me, but I think I’d rather go back to tribes and surnames like my own, which means “who resides on the hill.”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t really give myself titles, maybe because to name is to define. I have my name, of course, but beyond that, any identification is to help others categorize me.

      Hmm — you could be right, and what we need are tribal names.

  7. thefullmusician Says:

    What an interesting and thought-provoking post. (Lots of discussion happening here). I’m not an American of any kind (I live in Australia), but from an objective standpoint, it has always seemed strange to me how much the viewpoints and laws can vary in the USA from state to state. Now I understand a little more about why. I guess I haven’t learned much about the government of states over there. In Australia, I guess that we have variances from state to state, but most of our laws are national and the differences between people from different states are negligible.
    …I can’t remember what my point was. Anyway, I think it’s cool that The USA is almost like a collection of different mini-countries. It would be a stretch to expect a country with that large a population to unite on every issue.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The USA originally was a federation of separate states. The states do still have some control, but the federal government is taking more of the power away from the states all the time.

  8. joylene Says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned this. I’ve had numerous arguments with family and friends because I agree. We’re Americans from North American. Same as there’s Americans in South American. We differentiate ourselves by our countries. That’s why people from Africa keep reminding the rest of the world that they’re not just Africans, they’re also Nigerians, Algerians, Kenyans, or Angolans. For instance, I’m Canadian from North American. Kudos for speaking up, Pat.

    • joylene Says:

      Haha, I’m swift today, I thought you were being satirical. Mocking the fact we’re all Americans. Only I think it’s too late to change now, Pat. When folks say Americans, they don’t mean the rest of us. So, we’ve gotten used to answering when someone says, “Are you American?” “No, I’m a Canuck, or from Mexico, or Chilean…. or…”

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        I’m not swift today, either. I took your comment as unsatirical. Actually, I was simply focused on the word. I don’t know why it bothers me, except that it seems to be a bit too egocentric. In the future, when the movement toward one-world government is complete, I wonder what we’ll call ourselves?

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            It’s a good a title as any. Until I start looking for the etymology of Earth. Oh, wait! I do know — It comes from Sumerian mythology. Ea. Earthlings (more or less)is what the gods called us, so it’s our original name. (When you read Light Bringer, this will make a lot more sense.)

  9. jrafferty11 Says:

    Thought provoking post. The usurping of the term American is typical of the citizens of the US. As a country, we continue to be inwardly focused in many cases, which of course, drives people from outside the US crazy. They are often surprised to find that not every US citizen is that way. For example, it’s fun to astonish the French by speaking their language. The constitution was a major change from the Articles of Confederation — the idea of a weak confederation of states went by the wayside at that time — though the federal government has gotten much stronger, particularly the Executive branch in recent years. I love this country, but we’re far from perfect, which gives us collectively something to strive for. It would be nice to see some signs that the citizens of the US are more forward looking than we often appear.,

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The other point in the comment that instigated this post is that people want their country back. The truth is, that ideal is something to strive for as you say, not something to return to. There is probably more freedom for more people in this country now than there ever was. Originally, citizens were the landed folk, which means women, indentured servants, workers — none of them were allowed to vote or even to be free. Later, as the various slaveries were abolished, the moguls brought poor people over from Europe to work in mines and factories, living in company towns with company stores, and no matter how hard they worked, they got deeper into indebtedness and true wage slavery. Ironically (or perhaps not ironically so much as truthfully), as more people were accepted under the umbrella of franchised citizens, the federal government grew more powerful, which in effect negated the power of the people.

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