THE BLOG
07/16/2012 07:54 am ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

Deciding Whether Or Not You're Actually American

On the 4th of July, you likely observed patriotism at its finest. Proud displays of red, white and blue commemorated the birth of the "Land of the Free." From early morning street parades to afternoon grilling extravaganzas to nighttime firework spectacles, people gathered en masse to celebrate and to give thanks to America.

As a born and bred citizen of the U.S., I love these celebrations. Growing up, I always believed I embodied the American ideal: I was a hamburger-eating, baseball-watching, polka-dancing citizen of the greatest country on Earth.

So, why then am I beginning to doubt my credentials as an American?

It has recently come to my attention that the United States is actually part of a bigger America. That's right. It's called North America. And, to make matters worse, there's also a South America.

This may not be shocking news, but it is worth remembering.

Oddly enough, I was informed of this small fact by a Facebook posting. It's true. The post shows a single image, a map of both North and South America, that highlights the United States and in big bold letters exclaims: "America 35 Countries."

This image is going viral in Costa Rica, where I'm currently staying.

For those of you familiar with the cultures south of the border, you may be aware of the offense that Latin or South American citizens take when a U.S. citizen refers to himself as "American." They even prefer that we call ourselves Estadounidenses (United Statians), instead of Americanos.

Now, despite your viewpoints on the education system in the United States, I'm fairly confident that somewhere between grade school and high school, U.S. students were actually taught about the seven continents that compose this planet. Most U.S. citizens are aware that there is a North America and a South America. This image does not reveal some groundbreaking new discovery.

However, what this image does expose is the somewhat begrudging attitude many Latin and South American citizens hold toward natives of the United States.

I would dare to venture that most U.S. citizens are not aware of the strife that is caused by the single word "American." The country, after all, is the United States of America.

There appears to be a bigger issue at play here, though. Let's face it, most people will never define themselves by their continent. You will rarely hear citizens of Nicaragua or any other Latin American country express themselves as North American. Instead, most people identify themselves according to their home country. And, sometimes people prefer to go deeper and identify with a particular region (Sicilians, for example).

So, why all the uproar over a simple word?

If I had to conjure a guess, I would say it's a bit of resentment. Not everyone around the world thinks so highly of the United States or its citizens. Many view Americans as egotistical and entitled.

Americans drive fancy, juiced up cars, demand the most high-tech electronics and spend money on frivolous toys. People see U.S. citizens as wasteful, privileged and ignorant.

In some cases, this is true.

But this is the stereotype. This is the impression that is left by television shows such as the Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of Orange County and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Those programs portray a fantasy. But that's not America.

There are 50 unique states that make up the United States of America. And most "Americans" do not identify with the high-status celebrities showcased in today's media. In fact, most are quite the opposite. Many Americans tend to be hard-working, driven individuals just trying to get by.

Despite what many think, we are not "American" because of some superiority complex. We are simply such because that is the word that has been passed down from previous generations.

Is it time to change our language? Maybe. But it will take time. And in reality, will it really change much? Will a person from Costa Rica begin to describe himself as "American" if this classification does change? Probably not.

So, let's be honest. Is it really the "American" categorization that is bothersome, or is it the "American" himself? If it's the latter, perhaps it's time to brush away the stereotypes and take a real look at the USA. You can't believe everything you see on TV.