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Columns

June 27, 2012

Soy Americano

Ada —  

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been three years since I went to Paraguay. People will tell you that when you travel abroad, everybody speaks English, but that is not true.  People would begin speaking to me in Spanish and I would use my standard reply:

“No habla espanol.”

To this, more often than not, the reply was, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

This is because there are Mennonite settlements in Paraguay where Deutsch is still sprechen. They see more Mennonites than they do Anglos.  This caused me to change my approach.

“Hablo solo Ingles,”  I speak only English, or “Soy Americano,” I am an American.

I worked to try to change that.  Part of this I did by watching television.  In Paraguay, as in much of South America, they run television shows from the United States with Spanish subtitles. This is a good way to pick up words.  In doing this, I learned that they don’t refer to citizens of the U.S .as Americano, American, but Norte Americano, North American.

I can see that.  They are American too, albeit of the southern variety. We in the states do not own the word American, though I do admit I am not sure what else we could be called.  Us-ians comes to mind, but I don’t think it would fly very far.

Having met the folks, I am proud to share the adjective. While I am fascinated by the differences between us, I like the things we have in common; I like our American-ness.

In America, we’ve started over.  In America, things are new.

Not everybody understands or appreciates what I say when I say this, but in America, we are on the Frontier.

This is not as true, say, in Boston, Massachusetts as it is in Opolis, Kansas or Lula, Oklahoma, but it’s truer there than it is in, say, Rome, Italy.  They’ve been figuring out how to do things in Rome for thousands of years.  Columbus only stumbled upon the Americas about 500 years ago and we’ve only been settled here in the middle about a quarter of that time.

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