by Maitri Pamo
For a long time, I have found it curious that people say ‘America’ when they refer to the United States. I remember as a child seeing letters to Guatemala, Central America. So as I became increasingly aware of common parlance, it seemed like a peculiar presumption to assign ‘America’ to one country. A big, powerful, loud country, but one country nonetheless. America is comprised of two continents and an isthmus, totaling 22 countries.
The U.S. is of A. It says so in the name. So when a speaker talked about ‘America’ and was referring only to the U.S., I felt an inherent sense of inequality, that the U.S. was the bully on the playground who determined everything.
A subtle signal of the same mindset: when in Guatemala, I noticed that people did not refer to the U.S. as America, but they did call its people “Americanos.” So it was in Europe. My experiences cemented my irksome feeling that in so many minds, the U.S. had, like a big Pac-man, swallowed up the land masses around it. That the neighboring countries were but just so many dots to be devoured at leisure.
The U.S., in its Manifest Destiny, did indeed devour the American Indian lands as well as Mexican lands. Its land mass alone, its sheer space for present and potential natural resources, grant it Big Man status. Its hegemony in the hemisphere and the world has been undeniable. But it’s also a display of machismo to co-opt the name.
I posit that language is important not only in informing our opinions overtly, but in shaping them and fixating them within our own internal dialogue. Enough people with the same internal dialogue, overt opinions, and actions will follow. As an extreme example, it is well known that the Nazi war machine campaigned a wave of denigration towards Jews by using words aimed at “animalizing” them.
And although not as extreme in this case, I feel that the message here is that other countries in the Americas, and the people in those countries, do not matter. It’s paternalistic imposition: only the U.S.’ opinions count, only the U.S. gets to shape policy and take action. What’s good for the U.S. is good for the hemisphere. The attitude has proven disastrous for the U.S.’ southern neighbors on more than one occasion, including the US-led coup in 1954 that ousted a democratically elected president in Guatemala.
Perhaps one way to start being a better citizen on the playground would be to start being polite to one’s playmates. Let’s start by calling everyone their rightful name.
Contributor, Maitri Pamo.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.