The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-One, “Well, which America? There are many Americas.” by Megan Hennen

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The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-One, “Well, which America? There are many Americas.”, by Megan Hennen

Interlaken, Switzerland is an extreme sports hub known for drawing a special breed of tourist. Stepping off the train I was greeted by a sky littered with the parachutes of para-gliders and skydivers, looking up in the trees of the wooded area, there was an entanglement of ropes creating the intricate web of the Seilpark, and just walking down the street, people were seen prepping for a variety of other adrenaline-fueled sports such as whitewater rafting or glacier trekking. All of these thrilling pastimes unfolding before my eyes were contending with the overwhelming 360-degree view of the majestic Alps encompassing the town and the aquamarine waters of the lakes and river. With this stimulation-overload, it’s hard to believe that a single, simple conversation had such a lasting impact on me.

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It started out with the standard, almost rehearsed introductions one runs into when meeting fellow travelers (what’s your name, where are you from, where are you going, etc.). As I was running through the laundry list of questions, this time with a group of students from Hong Kong, one of them asked me where home was. At this point I was still in the habit of answering with ‘Minnesota,’ which was typically followed by a face twisted into a puzzled expression to which I would correct myself with “I’m an American.” The correction had cleared up the confusion in my previous conversations, however this time the same perplexed look was staring back at me.

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“Well, which America? There are many Americas.” This was something I’ve never encountered, let alone given thought to before, and I was now the one stunned into a momentary silence. She was right. The Western hemisphere is almost exclusively comprised of the Americas, yet there’s a single country that is often referred to as ‘America’ out of the entire conglomeration of regions named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (who landed in South America). So, does there need to be a redefining of identity of those inhabiting these fifty states, making a shift towards the identity of “US citizens,” or is being referred to as an “American” specific enough? And if being called “American” is enough, does that at all play into the exceptionalism revolving around our country?

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For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

17 Comments

Filed under Megan Hennen, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

17 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-One, “Well, which America? There are many Americas.” by Megan Hennen

  1. Ruby P.

    I really appreciate this article because I feel the same way when someone says just “America” for something whether they are referring to the U.S., South America or North America.We should all make note of this and try to be a but more specific for everyone’s sake and for the respect of all the different “Americas” 🙂

  2. Joe Chell

    This article interested me very much, and is something I can relate to as, when someone tells me they are from America, I immediately think of the United States. This creates the question of someones identity and again I can relate to this. As I am from the UK many people refer to me as being British, and although this is clearly true, I have always seen myself as an Englishman instead, although both are as correct as each other.

  3. Samantha Frascone

    I liked this article because it can get kind of confusing when people use the same word for both Americas. When I read the sentence, “There are many Americas,” all I could think to myself was, no there isn’t. Maybe to people that don’t live here but most people who live in America know which states are part of the continent and which states are not.

  4. It’s refreshing to hear that people from another country don’t see the U.S. as exclusively American. A humbling reminder that we are apart of a much larger world.

  5. This article grabs at something I had never even considered until earlier in this school year. I’ve always considered myself as an American. It’s a part of my identity that I am very proud of. However, I never stopped to consider that there is North America and South America, and there is more than just the US on this continent. I think this statement just shows the power that the US has had all these years, and our big ego in that we forget the other countries that share our namesake.

  6. Brandon Torres

    I had almost the same epiphany when I traveled. Conditioning oneself into saying “from the United States” is sometimes challenging. In spanish they often use “Estadosunidense” to refer to someone from the States.

  7. Sam Yocum

    This article really sheds light on something many people don’t realize. As you pointed out, American is quite a broad term and specifying could really help to better differentiate between the people of the Americas.

  8. Brianna Curtis

    This is such an interesting thought! It makes me wonder what makes something truly “American.” There are so many different cultures and ideas that go into our America, that makes me think America can be used as a word globally.

  9. Of course the common statement that seems familiar to say if one resides in the United States is that they are an American which exactly feeds the growing concept of American Exceptionalism. Out of curiosity, does inserting African, Asian, or Native as a few examples in front of “American” serve the purpose of de-idealizing this concept and add clarity? The Americas is a fairly newer development versus the rest of the world in terms of human existence and pace of growth; and with this,I think that the United States is too diverse economically, socially, geographically, and so on that we as citizens unconsciously use this term as a way to have a common ground in identity/culture that the rest of world seems to not lack. To be honest, when I say that I am a US citizen, it does not feel the same as saying I am an American but I know better to just play it safe and state that I am my respective ethnic background and that I am also from the United States.

  10. Katy Goerke

    When traveling through Canada when I was 6 years old I was quickly informed that the correct response to the question “Where are you from?” is “I’m from the USA!” as that is the only way to avoid a death glare. However certain other Canadians have found a their sense of humor and wrote the following (folk?) tune, complete with maps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29g57XTYgLE

  11. Maddie Kust

    Megan,

    It’s amazing how thought processes can transform in a single moment. Although I can’t provide definite answers to the questions you’ve asked, it’s something that I’ve though a lot about too… Nevertheless, I do think that there needs to be a reexamination of what “American” means since a large, and diverse, number of people occupy the Americas.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

  12. Cheyenne Lemm

    I really like this question. I feel a lot more people should look at the Americas and know that WE are not the only “Americans”. I think a more clear way to tell others of your nationality would be to say ‘I’m from the U.S.”

  13. Ada Moreno

    I think it’s very important to realize just how important our choice of words can be when communicating and expressing ourselves through various cultures. It’s also interesting to see how most of us relate at times solely to our country, or to those who share our same language, but don’t associate with the continent we belong to as a whole, as it too, could foster unity.

  14. Mitch VanTatenhove

    This is an interesting topic! I feel that they questioned your response because of how it was stated. By saying you are an American, I feel it allows for options to be included (South America, North America). Possibly they did not want to instantly assume it was the US? Definitely an more than less interesting response.

  15. Maria O

    This is a very personal issue for many people—perhaps because it, in fact, revolves around identity politics! Through my stay in the US I have learned that people in this country have often times a great sense of pride in their heritage. Being raised and indoctrinated as ‘being American’ from an early age through schooling can build that strong sense of identity. The problem then comes, as our writer framed it, when a group’s sense of identity overtakes others; after all, when our very being is denied or dismissed, we get personally offended with rightful reason. The question then becomes: how do we, Central, Northern, and Southern Americans, all share the term that lies at the foundation of so many of our countries without carelessly stepping all over each other’s sense of identity and belonging?

  16. Maija

    This is a very interesting point! I have never really thought twice about saying “I’m an American”, and how many people actually fall under that umbrella.

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