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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mexicans, Colombians, and Others are “Americans” Too



One evening, I was walking the streets of El Carmen, Perú, and as I stopped to ask a group of Afro-Peruvian men for some directions, they asked me,¿tú eres de América—Are you from America? With a hearty laugh, I answered, ¡sí, y ustedes tambien—Yeah, man, and you are too, LOL! 

What is it about the USA that we and others around the world refer to our country as “America” out of all the countries in North, Central, and South America? We call people from the continent of Africa “Africans,” yet those from Nigeria, “Nigerians” who live on the continent of Africa. The same applies to France in Europe, and Japan in Asia.

In Cartagena, Colombia, I went into a bank to withdraw cash from my credit card, and the banker asked me which country is my bank located. With an arrogant, Freudian slip, I answered, “it’s the US—can’t you see 'Bank of America' on the card?” Her response was, “this could be anywhere in the Americas.” I knew that this banker was right on target with her blunt reminder that we US citizens might want to think we make up the whole western world but we don’t.

My outlook on this matter started to change some years back when I ventured into a Venezuelan online forum identifying myself as an “American.” One of the forum members pulled my proverbial coat tail to remind me that people in Venezuela are Americans too, continental Americans, and that we in the US are referred to as Estadounidenses (Es-tah-do Oo-nee-dense-says), meaning “USA-ers,” so to speak, or simply Norte-Americanos (North Americans) along with Canadians. Not long afterwards, I visited a Latin-American cultural center, La Peña in Berkeley, CA, where there was a presentation by a Colombian woman. During her presentation, she picked up a black doll from Colombia, and called it an African-American doll, that is, a black “continental” American doll.

Therefore to this day, during my travels and during my interactions with foreign immigrants and visitors in the US, I never refer to myself as an American. I simply tell people I’m from the US, more specifically, California by way of New York. As an Afro-Peruvian lady friend put it to her friends, referring to me, California y Estados Unidos son iguales—California and the USA are the same!