Well, it seems that at least in the English speaking-world and in its sphere of influence, America is a country. This means that America is a country according to pretty much almost everyone in the world. But America certainly didn't start out being a country, and there are parts of America, such as the rest of America (meaning, mostly, Latin America, occasionally Canada too) who contest this view and hold that America is a continent, and not just one country. Being fully bicultural myself, it always hurts me when my two cultures interact without understanding each other. In this case, the misunderstanding is superficially about nomenclature, and we could just agree to call a spade a fucking shovel, and get it over with. Unfortunately, it all goes much deeper than this.

A long, long time ago...

Let's review our history lessons. The Europeans stumbled upon this chunk of land which they confused at first for India. Eventually, it became clear that they had found a completely new world, and that's what they called it for quite some time, the New World. At some point, a German cartographer whose name nobody remembers spread the word that a new world had been found, and he used the name of another cartographer whose name everybody remembers, Amerigo Vespucci, to name the new land. He used Vespucci's Latin name, Americus, and thus the new world had a name: America. Certainly no country there yet. The New World was too new for countries.

At first the fine distinctions were not important either. There wasn't a South America yet, much less a Latin America or a Central America. In the beginning, there was only one America. America was broad, and she was alluring. She was a land full of promise, a new world to be explored, settled, and in many cases, conquered. America was a chance to start with a clean slate. Now, this clean slate meant different things to different Europeans. To the weakened Spaniards and Portuguese, it meant an opportunity to increase the wealth of their nations impoverished under centuries of Moorish rule. The pope drew a line of demarcation, and there you go: west for Spain, East for Portugal. That's how America was to be divvied up. With papal approval, the Spaniards and the Portuguese set out to build an empire of fire, blood, gold, and silver at the expense of America.

But not all Europeans were quite this savage. For some, the Old World just didn't suit them anymore. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses of the richer countries, the oppressed, the persecuted, just wanted a quiet place to do their own business. They wanted opportunity and a clean slate too. They wanted America, but they certainly wouldn't go to the lands owned by the relatively savage Spanish and Portuguese, a savageness that survives to this day in their bullfights, some believe. Worse yet, many of these huddled masses wanted freedom from religius persecution, and the Catholic lands of the Spanish and Portuguese would not give them that. They would hence not go there. That's not what America meant to these immigrants. They would find their own America north of the Spanish and Portuguese.

So it happened, and French, Dutch, and Irish people went to their America, and cut their own piece of the pie out of the native's lands, sometimes treating the natives better than the Spanish and the Portuguese had, and sometimes worse. But at any rate, they had come to America and they had largely found the freedom they had been looking for. America had fulfilled their promises for them.

The English were there too; soon they overcame, and the British empire was now also in America. And because these new "Americans" as they called themselves felt that the English were interfering with the fulfillment of the American dream, they decided to make a country out of America.

Please observe that even now America was more about promise than about being a country. Sure, the Americans were now free of British rule, free of redcoats, free of taxes, but they usually saw themselves first as one of thirteen, and then as Americans, as the new citizens of a new world. It would take much more time before America truly could become a country, even if there were very official-looking documents proclaiming the existence of the United States of America, of the New World, of the land they had come to. They belonged to the land, but wouldn't claim the land for themselves quite yet. Finer divisions amongst them would be necessary later, too, but first they had to become American to the world outside their new borders.

Meanwhile, the rest of America wanted their promises back too. Haiti was the first, then México, and the spread of the fires of American freedom to the rest of the continent could not be curbed. And believe me, they too thought of themselves on the small scale first and then as American. The fine distinctions of a qualified America, whether north, central, south, or Latin, were still not too important right now. America was still mostly one, because nobody had seen much of each other's America yet.

In due time the Americans in the north wanted more land, and this meant encounters with the other Americans down south, and sometimes those up north too. Now the distinctions are much more important. How can you down south (and perhaps you up north) also be American? We are American, you, you... well, you're not quite American yourself, because the promises of America were fulfilled for us, because we won, but obviously not for you. You are... Latin Americans, South Americans, Central Americans, (and Canadians) but only we are unqualified Americans.

We've always been Americans; the land we came to was America; the freedom of America was granted to us. We fought a very bloody war and starved of hunger and cold in the winter in order to earn the privilege of becoming American. We established a haven to worship as we saw fit, one nation, under a God who blesses America. We argued long and hard about how to govern ourselves so that we could stay American. We claimed and settled with bitter hardships more of America so that she could not escape us. Clearly, we're American, and clearly, you're not like us, so you cannot be American like us. Your names need to change to reflect our differences.

The victors controlled more than land now. They also controlled the language.

Present Day. Present Time.

This ends our remembrance of ancient history lessons. It's usually convenient to forget all of this, and most people prefer it that way. Now let's think of where this places us today.

First, these other Americans, Latin, Central, and South, weren't listening too carefully to what the unqualified Americans were telling them about the promises that America had fulfilled up north. The other Americans were still smarting too much from the blows they had received to pay attention, and they were still waiting for America to fulfill her promises to them. Herein lies the crux of the matter, because these other Americans are still waiting to this very day for America to fulfill her promise. They have never listened very carefully to the worldview that these meddlesome unqualified Americans have given them, much less to this spiel about why they cannot be unqualified Americans too, and why they must wear these extra adjectives at all times like a star of David in a Polish ghetto. To these other Americans, "America" still means almost exactly what it means to the unqualified Americans: opportunity, liberty, promises, but they are referring to their own land, and to the unqualified Americans' land too. The New World was for everyone, and why should the unqualified Americans in their own land be the only ones eligibile for the American dream?

After all, doesn't this land also belong to the other Americans, didn't they come to America too, didn't too they have to work very hard to try to be Americans and remain Americans, even if it was the unqualified Americans who won in the end? If the unqualified Americans have managed to drown out the voices of the other Americans and tell the rest of the world that there is only one America, and the others are in fact very different kinds of Americas, how much longer will the other Americans have to wait before their country 'tis of them too?

Sadly, the unqualified Americans don't feel a need to listen to what the other Americans tell them either. In the end, it's no skin off their nose. Anyways, what's the big deal? It's just a name. And that history lesson? It's ancient. Forget it. Get over it. It's not important.

I can see their point. It is just a name, and just because we are using names, doesn't mean that we are using them with all of their historical meaning, because like I said, we prefer to forget those uncomfortable passages from history. Usage has come to give a different meaning to America in English. Even if it didn't start out being a country, it certainly is now. There are lots of congenial unqualified Americans who refer to themselves as unqualified Americans with the best of intentions and because it's just a convenient name. Language fluctuates, meanings change, and it's not something over which to get one's knickers in a twist.

Unfortunately, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Americans have never felt this semantic drift, and in their language, which undisputedly is theirs even if perhaps America no longer is, "America" still means what it meant centuries ago: a land of opportunity and promise, a place to start freshly anew. Beautiful land of green fields, snow-capped mountains, lakes as vast as the oceans, a place where freedom promises to ring. They too came to settle in America, in their own unqualified America, and in their own language they still live in an unqualified America.

These other Americans respond, why can't we be all Americans and you be United-Statesians? In the end, it's just a name, isn't it? You said so yourself. We are American too for reasons very much like the ones you gave!

To which the unqualified Americans counter, that America just means too much to them for them to give it up in name, that words like "United-Statesian" just doesn't have the same ring in English as it perhaps does in Spanish, and that the other Americans can be Americans too, and they always have been Americans, but a few minor adjectives in front will make it easier for everyone involved to understand what the differences are.

And I sit between the two cultures and feel saddened by this exchange in which neither side seems to ever fully understand the other.