Article by: Arianna Jessa (UWC AC ’15 – ’17)
America. The word can represent a culture, a nationality, a country, and two entire continents. At Atlantic College over the past two months, I have heard the term ‘America’ be used in a variety of contexts, from talking about Hollywood movies, to politics, and it has become increasingly clear that the very term ‘America’ is used in ways that contradict each other, by people from all around the world.
In Canada, we refer to the United States of America, as the U.S, or “The States”, and it the term ‘America’ is rarely used. However, if we are referring to a country in South America, we refer to them as a separate continent, rarely distinguishing between individual countries. We are taught in our schools that North America is one continent and South America is another.
In South America, however, schools teach their students that North and South America are the same continent, and that they should identify as Americans, as much as anybody from the USA or Canada. This geographical distinction exists because of the Panama Canal, which, by North American education, separates the two continents. However in South America, the existence of the Panama Canal does not provide sufficient division of the two land masses to justify the existence of two separate continents. Therefore, students educated in South America refer to themselves as American (in continental identity) in addition to their individual nationalities.
At Atlantic College the term America is used colloquially to describe the culture of the United States of America, which, though not entirely wrong, is a generalization of the cultures of what can be seen as two continents. When students and staff use the word ‘America’ to discuss politics or culture, many do not realize that they are generalizing the populations of two continents. This is a significant generalization considering the powerful nature of US culture, meaning that ‘America’ is referred to a lot in our lives at Atlantic College.
Though it can be agreed that to reference citizens of the USA, the term American is correct, reference to ‘America’ as a place, is a distinguishing factor that not many people from non-western countries are aware of.