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What is an American?

Conundrum commentary by Rico

When I was attending Washington University in St. Louis , I recall reading an anthropological treatise on a population of people called Nacirema


It was written by Horace Miner of the University of Michigan and published in the American Anthropologist Journal. It was called, “Body Ritual of the Nacirema.” [You can view it on line at:



After perusal, it became obvious that the author was describing, in jest, an “American” of the mid-Twentieth Century—backwards, “Nacirema” spells “American.” 


But what is an American? 


When I was ten years old and living in Mexico City , I introduced myself as “an American.” I soon learned that this was offensive to my Mexican hosts and I immediately corrected myself and disconnected from what appeared to the listener as my macho hubris.


I came to learn that all natives of North and South America and the adjacent Caribbean islands are Americans. Cubans are Americans, Mexicans are Americans, Chileans are Americans, and so forth—Americans, as opposed to Europeans, the latter of whom named these two “new” continents, “America.”


So how is it that the U.S. Anglo-press has dubbed the word American to refer strictly to the habitant of the United States ?


True, the United States is officially “The United States of America.” But this name illustrates the point—the United States is part of America .


Americans are not just residents or citizens of the United States of America . The term was more inclusive, until the Anglo-press kidnapped the definition of the word, just as the Anglo-press coined the term “Hispanic,” when referring to a Latino/a. The vast majority of “Latinos” prefer to be called “Latinos,” unless you are a vato from East L.A.


But, today, I doubt that our Latin American neighbors care about this linguistic-sequestration. In light of the U.S.’s unpopular invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, including the Abu Ghraib scandal, the term “American” has come to denote and connote a very negative person, surpassing the theme in The Ugly American, a book written by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick (and went on to become a major motion picture, starring Marlon Brando).   


So, entonces, after all these years, I still do not refer to myself as “an American.” Even though I often retort, “Yo soy aleman,” I prefer the phraseology, “Un vato loco del mundo.”  






«Tinta con sabor»      Ink with flavor!



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