Footnote: America and the Spanish-English Divide

When all is said and done I’m going to have around 800 footnotes in my dissertation. I love footnotes. It appeases the loyal, “leave-no-man-behind” streak in my personality. Since I’m dealing with Chilean subject matter my bibliography is nearly exclusively in Spanish. I’ve already spent half of my research/writing time translating so I made an executive decision to leave a few words in their natural state—travesía, obra—because the English translations just aren’t up to snuff. All of which I explain in my ~800 footnotes.

There’s one word that doesn’t need translating but a clear disclaimer: America. As something that sounds the same but can have widely different usage (and thus meaning) it’s the ur-homonym in this part of the world. The School of Valparaíso loves this word and it pops up in nearly every sentence of their writings. An early footnote in my diss clarifies any misunderstanding since for them “America” means the region not the U.S.; lest my Murican readers believe the School has a misplaced sense of patriotism. This all makes sense when you’re in Chile (and maybe other parts of Latin America) where “America” is a truly abstract term that belongs to everyone in the New World.

But as recent controversy surrounding Alfredo Jaar’s classic A Logo for America (1987) demonstrates, lots of people feel differently. It’s really all a matter of context. The first time a Chilean checked me after I said where I was from—”We’re all Americans”, “You’re still in America”— I was baffled and annoyed. But as Rick Steves preaches, travellers must play nice and be culturally sensitive. So in this part of the Americas, I’m technically “estadounidense” or “from the U.S.A.” It’s a mouthful but it’s just one of those wacky things you do abroad. I understand it’s a tough sell in the U.S. since the name of our great nation is really just the combination of a bland adjective (united) and bland noun (states) with a modified Italian first name (Amerigo). In the absence of a unique name, we must appropriate America.

But just at home. Abroad, we’ve got to take a long breath and craft a long sentence. Tedious, but worth it.

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