Graphic by Sana Amin/The Gazelle

Letter to the Editor: On the Policy of using U.S. American

As most of you must be aware, U.S. American has become the signifier of choice at NYU Abu Dhabi to represent students from the United States of ...

Apr 2, 2016

Graphic by Sana Amin/The Gazelle
As most of you must be aware, U.S. American has become the signifier of choice at NYU Abu Dhabi to represent students from the United States of America. Purporting to accommodate political correctness, the term is meant to ensure that American does not misappropriate the identity or nationality of those living in other North, South or Central American states. This terminology has, in turn, been embraced and enforced by The Gazelle, but it is my opinion — alongside that of some other U.S. nationals — that such a revision of identity and geography has been unreasonably and hastily applied.
First, in regard to political correctness, which is in part challenged here, I would agree that it is a vastly positive movement. Even its critics aptly note that being too sensitive is far and away more preferable to a devolution to hate and insensitivity. But as my friends certainly know, my line in the sand since my freshman year has been the term U.S. American. I had never heard the term before and could not immediately wrap my head around its implications or necessity. In the years since, I have had many conversations with those from the U.S. and beyond, but I’m still unsatisfied. I am left with the notion that all that has been created is a new paradigm that does nothing but protect this community's inflated sense of cosmopolitanism.
I will say that one friend, an NYUAD student from the U.S., provided a sufficient rationale that has kept me from writing this for years. Her perspective is that if the term American offends anyone at all, it does not hurt to accommodate him or her by saying U.S. American. This, for the most part, is the overwhelming logic of political correctness, and in many cases it has its merits. Until recently, I had no response except the gut feeling in my stomach that kept me from saying U.S. American. But a comment on one of The Gazelle’s articles by NYUAD junior and fellow U.S. national Casey Tirshfield helped me realize what has so undeservedly been missing from this dialogue for so long: a U.S. opinion. And to me and many others from the U.S., U.S. American is in itself an offensive term that has been unjustifiably imposed.
In Tirshfield’s words, "I don't know anyone from the United States that would self-identify as a 'U.S. American' without being socially compelled by the NYU Abu Dhabi community to do so. I also don't know any other North, Central or South Americans that would self-identity first as ‘Americans.’” In this instance, our political correctness has unnecessarily sought to defend everyone else at the expense of those from the U.S., and I cannot imagine a similar double standard going unchallenged if applied in reverse.
Think about it: no one else who made the long journey from their home country to NYUAD has had an identity forced upon them. North, South and Central Americans are certainly not restrained. They are free to identify as Canadian, Peruvian, Salvadorian, Brazilian, Dominican, etc. A large subset is also able to identify with a broader Latino identity. Even our students from disputed territories are free to pick their identity, even if the choice is not obvious to an outsider. Yet, I am not allowed to call myself American, and while some of you may find the addition of two letters trivial, for me, saying or hearing U.S. American imposes a cost. I am reminded of the term’s double standard and the impediment this community has placed on my native identity.
Focusing on those from other North, South or Central American countries, NYUAD junior Jose Varias, who is from Peru, stresses his disdain whenever someone refers to him as American. He highlights the unique and proud identities of each country in the Western Hemisphere and goes further to say that he is not okay with this new branding. If, then, the term does not satisfy issues of identity, it is surely not geographically pertinent either. By dropping the term U.S. American we lose no geographical efficacy or simplicity. Between country names and regional identifiers, everyone can be described. And like it or not, the term American has distinguished those from the U.S. for centuries, and in my experience is more easily recognized in conversation abroad. The creation of the term is, in fact, the only reason any confusion might arise — before its inception into our collective vocabulary, American and North American have conversationally meant different things.
To conclude the discussion on geography, it helps to look at the root of the terminology: namely the United States of America. If we follow the logic of appropriation that is applied to the term American, the root of such perceived appropriation is in the broad geographic claim of the country’s name. However, the name is unequivocally correct and need not offend. The U.S. is quite literally a collection of states from the Americas, just as the United Arab Emirates is a collection of Arab states. Neither term lays universal claim over all states in the Americas or Arab world, but merely signify a subset of states in each. Similarly, the European Union is a subset of European states, but we still call those from the EU Europeans. Of these similar cases, it is only in the American context that we require a revision of terminology, in what can only be interpreted as a targeted, albeit blind, attack.
My conclusion is that all the term does is restrict those from the U.S.: people of this community who have left their country to equally pursue NYUAD’s noble ideals. For me, NYUAD was the dream. In high school I worked for the privilege of joining this self-declared global community. I decided to live nine time zones and 6,874 miles away from my family and friends. I have sacrificed traditions and cultural closeness. I have given up root beer, watching sports at a normal hour and Thanksgiving with my family. To be blunt, I chose to live and study in a region in which I do not feel comfortable wearing a USA t-shirt in public. And all to get to know the people and cultures of the world. I want to break the so-called ignorant American or monolingual American molds, and I am well on my way to doing that.
I am ideologically and physically part of this community, but I am also American. I am proud of my country: for providing me with a stable upbringing, a world-class public school education and the opportunity to seek global education and careers. The United States of America is home and always will be home to me and to a sizable proportion of our students. And for these reasons I feel compelled to defend my American identity. In doing so, all that I and some of my peers ask of you is that you afford us the reciprocal right and decency of calling ourselves what we see fit: for me that is American.
gazelle logo