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Shall We Call Ourselves Americans?

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Who are Americans? At the time of the last person to "discover" the "New World" in 1492--Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)--there were millions of dark-skinned people living in it. They labeled themselves as members of small bands or villages of kith and kin but the arrogant Columbus, thinking he was in Southeast Asia, called the natives Los Indios. The Spanish conquistadores followed this ignorance and hence the name "Indians" stuck. In 1504-5 the shadowy Italian businessman Amerigo Vespucci, who had made some voyages as a passenger or lowly officer, perhaps circulated letters in Florence which stated he had been the captain who discovered the New World. A French student, while making a new map of the world, got one of these letters and named the New World in Amerigo's honor--first in Latin Americus, then America. The name American was recorded in 1578 but only in reference to the native Indians. When the poor Whites, convicted criminals (released from various European prisons), prostitutes, refugees, idealists, Slaves, and religion dissenters came to the land of the Indians they were called provincials or colonials. However, in 1739 when the Spanish, exasperated with the British, cut off the ear of an English smuggler, the War of Jenkins' Ear arose. This was the first time the British colonial cousins were referred to as Americans. To reflect on why Euro-Americans are obsessed with designating separateness in USA society is fascinating, complex, and sad. It has always bewildered me as to why Europeans would invade the Americas and brutally kill off (and chop up) Amerindians and their food supply but still name so many states, counties, cities, parks, streets, and the like after those same Amerindians.

The term "Red Skin" was first used in the early 19th century by Native Americans themselves as a way to distinguish their people from the "white skins." But over the years the term has taken on ugly connotations. A football team called the Crackers or the Darkies probably would not be tolerated for long. Yet, the Washington Redskins (and many other institutions around the USA) have been using appellations regarding Amerindians for decades (in the case of Washington Redskins since they moved from Boston in 1937). Also puzzling is why USA society would not want to believe in "one people, indivisible" and in the Constitution's "freedom and justice for all" dictates in order for all the people to love their country and want the best for it by doing whatever that takes--something that cannot happen as long as racial differences and second class citizenship are emphasized. I daresay the vast majority of mulattoes and a large number of minorities would prefer to be "just Americans"--and especially because they believe their parents have taught them to be "Americans." To give an idea of how nice it would be if this topic of "What Shall We Call Ourselves?" never came up reminds me of a time in the Philippines when a Filipino was upset with me about something.

Her response was: "You, you Americans are all alike." It really felt good being considered as simply an American--and this in no way is intended to take away my pride in being of African and Amerindian descent. Yet, it was equally terrible for me to see clear evidence of the "ugly American"--as in how the American servicemen totally disrespected and destroyed various aspects of the Filipino culture. That made me ashamed to be called an American and a USAF Officer.

website: www.jablifeskills.com

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