Monday, November 15, 2010

¿Soy "United States-ian", no soy Americano?

Kristen says...

This came up twice today, so it must be something on the kids' minds. Our school's schedule facilitates a 20-minute morning break and a 40+ minute lunch each day for the students (nice, right?!), and as part of my "other duties as assigned," once a week I have duty during those times. It's not hard, I just have to bring my snack or lunch to the "lunchroom" (lunchroom is in quotes because it's not really a room, we eat outside, under a roof with no sides) and make sure nobody throws food or leaves trash or anything.

This morning, during break, the other teacher on duty (a gringo from the states, like myself) and I and a few of the students were chatting, and the other teacher referred to us as "United Statesians" rather than "Americans," as I, and I'm sure he, were brought up calling ourselves. The cool thing was, I didn't really notice what he said, as I try to avoid the "American" label as well, but one of our 11th grade Honduran students immediately commented on it.

What I thought was interesting was that he pointed out my colleague's comment to me, "Mrs. Fink, did you hear what he said? He said United States-ian, not American." I agreed, and said I try to say that, too...and I think he was surprised. Not that I personally was trying to be inclusive, but I think that 2 people from the US both felt that made me sad and proud all at the same time.

The interesting thing is that the subject came up less than 4 hours later, in class. My 7th graders and I were discussing primary sources (my FAVORITE thing about history) and were listing the different things that could be called primary sources. Diaries were mentioned, and I told the class I liked reading diaries of women on the Oregon Trail.

I was shocked to learn that the kids had NO idea what the Oregon Trail was. So, being the western-history nerd that I am, I grabbed a map of the Americas and started explaining it. But apparently, on my way to grab the map, I asked the students when the last time they'd had "American History" in class. And immediately a student asked, "Why do they call it American History? We live in America, too, right?" Right. Absolutely.

It was a very interesting day, semantics-wise. But it makes you think, how often do I say "American" when I mean the United States? Should I be able to call myself an "American?" I am from the United States of AMERICA...a person from Canada is Canadian, a person from Mexico is Mexican, a person from Honduras is aren't I an American? Or is United States-ian the correct way label myself?

Readers, what do you think? Help me out here :)



  1. I think we were taught in Spanish to say Norteamericana or Estadounidense...because South and Central Americans are also Americanos strictly speaking. I do think it would be weird to say in English something other than American though...

  2. In Spain they generally assume that "americanos" and "estadounidenses" means the same thing: which is to say, they've Americanized. When we say "Americans," we're not excluding our friends to the south (and to the north) on purpose - I think it's just a product of English not having a good word for our nationality. I think though in the context of another American country, it's always best to specify. I'm particularly fond of "I'm a U.S. American." A little awkward, but until we get smart like Spanish and adopt the word "United-Statesian" that's the best we can do!

  3. We are Americans and so are your Honduran friends. As I recall, American History started with new world "discovery" and included at least some mention of the rest of the countries in the Americas. Yes, the focus is on the US when studying in a US school.

    I also recall taking US History at some point.

    We can't help it that our country was named by a committee.


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