When Americans are not American

By Jack D. Forbes
News From Indian Country 8-08

I had been following the newspaper reporting of the America Cup (Copa America) in soccer and the Pan American Games in baseball. In the former case, all of the teams were from South America except for a few invited outsiders, such as the United States and Mexico. In the latter case, all of the teams are from North, Central, or South America.

What I found to be very disturbing is that the Associated Press reports consistently have referred to the Yanks as “Americans” while refusing to refer to the other American team players as Americans.

The U.S. players can, of course, be referred to as U.S. players, as Yanks, as Yankees, or as North Americans. But it is shocking to find them bearing the exclusive name of “Americans” as if they alone existed in this hemisphere.

Unfortunately, the exclusive and political use of “American” for only United-states-ians, has been gradually escalating, especially since World War II.

I grew up knowing that “America” was the entire hemisphere. My old maps, dictionaries, and encyclopedias made it crystal clear that America was the entire continent or land mass consisting in North and South America, with Central America and Meso or Middle America also being commonly used for parts of the hemisphere.

All of the people of America were, of course, Americans either by ancestry or by adoption.

Many of my old books and encyclopedias also made it clear that the original Americans were the people also known as American Indians.

I soon came to realize that the people from south of the U.S. border, from Mexico to southern Chile and Argentina, had a lot of original American ancestry and were Americans in a double sense, both being descended from Americans back for tens of thousands of years and being inhabitants of America, north or south.

Unfortunately, the domination of the media by U.S. corporations has been spreading the idea far and wide that “Americans” are only from the USA. The other Americans resist as best they can, but they find it difficult to offset the Yanks’ dominance of world news.

Often, Latin Americans use the phrase “America Nuestra” (Our America) to refer to their part of the Americas or to their participation in the American heritage and ongoing cultural life. For example, a series of books published in Mexico by the publisher “Siglo Veintiuno” (Twentieth-first Century) bears the name of “Nuestra America” (Our America) and covers “the reality that our countries have lived for centuries.”

The expression “Our America” was used in the early days of the twentieth-century in an article by the great Cuban thinker and writer, Jose Marti, when, as I recall, he was living in New York City.

One of the earliest treaties of the USA, with the Delaware Nation, referred to the thirteen states as the “United States of North America.” The Jay Treaty between the USA and Britain refers to the “continent of America” as the entire hemisphere.

Perhaps it is too bad that we have not adopted “North America” as our name, but then we are also only part of North America, not the whole.

Personally, I have always liked “Yanks” ever since I heard the stirring song of World War I, “Over there, over there, the Yanks are coming,…” It is, however, very important for us to understand that the immigrants coming to the USA today from the south are already Americans before they cross the Rio Grande and that, for most of them, their ancestors have been living in America for up to 30,000 or more years.

Perhaps we need to rethink our use of words!

Jack Forbes is of Powhatan, Delaware, and other ancestry. His latest book is THE AMERICAN DISCOVERY OF EUROPE, published this year.

Mailing address:

Native American Studies Department,
University of California, Davis
One Shields Ave.
Davis California 95616