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.
(It is true that there were people here already, and, to understate it badly, it didn’t always turn out so well for them.
This frontier-ish-ness is truer in most of Paraguay than it is even in Kansas and Oklahoma. It might be the romantic in me, but I find it exciting. You can be riding down the road there and see folks pulling a wagon with a horse and then see a couple of boys going by in the back of a Toyota pickup texting on their cell phones. There are three centuries going on at the same time.
The men there are very masculine. Some of this may be due to the hispanic culture; the word “macho” carries the connotation it does for a reason. But I believe at least some of that is due to the frontier spirit. I saw the same during my trip to Siberia back at the turn of the century. The men there, like those in Paraguay, reminded me of the men of an earlier age here. They are men like my father and my grandfather.
Here we get into some dangerous territory. While that machismo has been tamed to a certain degree out of this generation, I notice women like it. I am sure I’ll be told I am wrong, but my eyes have seen what my eyes have seen. I think there is something about the hard-edge of the frontier that demands that old-fashioned masculinity. I may try it out...if my wife will let me.
This has been a long way of saying there is something special about being American in the most inclusive sense of the word, from up here in El Norte all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. I think we wouldn’t be doing wrong by learning to appreciate it.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at email@example.com.