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What is America?

Is Calling the USA “America” Offensive in Central America?

Is calling the USA “America” offensive? Celebrate July 4 with a look at a common debate among many in Latin America.

Happy 4th of July to all my American brothers and sisters in Costa Rica” said a poster on one of the Costa Rica expat Facebook groups, as more experienced members held their breaths and waited for the hysteria to ensue.

What is America?

And, of course, it did. In Costa Rica’s expat Facebook groups, there’s no end to the virtue-signalers who choose to be offended on someone else’s behalf about the use of the word “America.” This nonsense has been going on forever.

There’s a school of thought in Latin America that using the word “America” to describe the “United States of America” is wrong

It comes from a sense of anti-Americanism that pervades in this part of the world. The feeling is that saying the word “America” to describe one country in the Americas somehow lessens the value of all the other countries and implies that they’re not American. It’s ludicrous and comes from a deep sense of insecurity.

As someone not from America, I get that the United States has a lot to answer for down here, especially in Central America. Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua – especially Nicaragua – can all talk about the appalling treatment they’ve received at the hands of Uncle Sam over the years. There’s good reason for anti-American sentiment.

And yet it’s not everyone who gets upset by calling America “America”

I’ve been in taxis, Ubers, and shops all over Central and South America where people ask if I’m an “Americano” without batting an eye. In 2020, the then-president of Panama said “Americana” on Twitter. Good for him.

Elsewhere in the Americas, non-Latin American Americans don’t really care, either. You’d think that if the word “America” to describe the United States of America was so offensive to everyone, then surely everyone outside the U.S. would be in an uproar. But they’re not.

In Canada, they don’t cry “But… but we’re Americans too!” when someone says the A-word to describe their noisy neighbors to the south

I’ve never heard a Jamaican or Barbadian complain about this either. Only Latin Americans. Why?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s some kind of insecurity. Like it or not, the United States is a more successful country than any other in the hemisphere, except for possibly Canada. Few other countries in the world, let alone the hemisphere, can touch the United States.

This is why, despite all the country’s massive issues, people still want to emigrate there. Including lots of Central Americans. The USA might be on an end-of-empire downward slide, but – for better or worse – it’s still a country many Central Americans aspire to be in. Even if many Americans aspire to be out of it.

It’s almost a jealousy thing, you know? Which is crazy

Latin America has nothing to be jealous of the United States about, success or no success. In recent years, Latin America has come on leaps and bounds.

But here’s the thing. It’s only a name. Throwing your toys out of your pram over a name makes you look petty. It makes you look insecure. And if you’re an American expat in Central America doing that, it makes you look pathetic.

When people say “America” or “Americans”, they’re not stamping over your head with some kind of imperial, supremacist jackboot. You seeing it like that condemns you to some kind of forever victimhood.

What they’re actually doing when they say “America” is shortening the name from the longer “United States of America.” That’s all. It’s nothing personal against you. The name of the country is the United States of America. Or America for short.

Here are some other countries we cut short when referring to them:

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I suppose we could cram that bunch of words into our mouths every time, or we could say “Great Britain” or “UK” instead.

How about the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria? Or the Commonwealth of Australia? Or the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia?

Have you noticed how we call these countries “Algeria,” “Australia,” and “Ethiopia?”

Closer to home, why do we say “Mexico” instead of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States)? Thinking of it, why aren’t Mexicans up in arms over the use of Estados Unidos in the American name? I mean when we say “Estados Unidos” elsewhere in Latin America, why is it only obvious that we’re referring to the American United States and not the Mexican ones? I’m sure this will offend someone someday. And then there’s the Republica Federativa do Brasil (Federative Republic of Brazil).

My point is, as pedantic as it sounds, that it’s only the United States of America that is somehow not allowed to use its shortened form

Every other country can use theirs, including the Republic of Panama, Republic of Costa Rica, Republic of Guatemala, Republic of El Salvador, Republic of Honduras, and Republic of Nicaragua. The one country in Central America that doesn’t cry into its milk about “America” is Belize, whose complete name is… wait for it… Belize.

The reason why the United States of America is called the United States of America is because they were the first country in the hemisphere to win independence from their European overlord. If the United Mexican States had won independence first, they might well have snagged the America name for themselves.

And if they had done, would whatever the USA has called itself be upset about it some 200+ years later?

I doubt it. Would other Latin American countries still be crying about it? I somehow doubt that, too.

I also doubt that back when they came up with the name “United States of America” they were like, “Hey that’s awesome! We can use this name as an insult to those Spanish territories in the south once they win their independence in 50 years.

Saying “America” does not make you some anti-Latin fascist. It’s not a label of superiority in any way unless you decide to make it one in your own head. It’s only a name.

Central Americans (and anyone living in Central America who gets upset about a name) should find other things to get upset about.

Like poverty and inequality. Corruption. Crime. These issues are far more important to the region than the word “America”. Yes, yes we know you’re American too. Another country having the name of the continent in its name doesn’t mean you’re not from said continent.

Oh… and one more thing. If you’re one of those #AllCountriesMatter people, you should grow up. Your country has its independence day too. Stop being so ridiculous.

So on this July 4, happy birthday America (the country). You’re still a great country whatever they say.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

James Dyde

James Dyde

James Dyde is a British immigrant to Costa Rica and the editor of this website. He has lived in Central America since 2000 and retains a deep love for the region. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.