Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Definition of America

Kirstin Silva Gruesz's article tackles not only the demographics or geography behind the term "America" (and "American"), but rather the ideological implications of the name as it pertains to the United States.

Gruesz's inclusion of the ongoing debate over where the name "America" originates from serves to highlight the ironic need that some Americans have to attach a specific ethnic, racial or religious group to the historical importance of their country - a country that from its discovery was described as a New World, and became synonymous with new beginnings; a place for people to go to escape persecution in their homelands; a literal tabula rasa. It's interesting that Gruesz addresses this debate as it suggests that some Americans are deliberately looking back at their history before there technically was any history (of the United States, that is) - before the America of the modern world that had become synonymous with looking forward, progress and modernity - almost to define America (or the United States) in terms of its discovery, its origins.

The term "Americanisation" is discussed, in reference to the assimilation of immigrants into the U.S. in the post-Civil War years. Gruesz suggests the term to refer to the adoption of American values and lifestyle, suggesting that American values were unique and different than those of European values.

Gruesz focuses heavily on the distinction between America as a country (the US) and America the continent (or rather two continents - North and South America), making reference to the negative connotations of America (when used in connection with the US) in terms of Americanisation and the stereotypical images and symbols that the America of the United States portrays. Gruesz discusses the notion of "divorcing the name of the nation from the name of the continent" and how it has stumbled because of the lack of appropriate substitutions, giving examples such as Frank Lloyd Wright's "Usonian".

Gruesz's article rightly suggests that defining the term "America" is a very different matter to defining the country, the United States of America.

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