When I first arrived in Panama in 1982, I would proudly claim to be American to anyone that asked. The response I received was shocking at first as the person I was speaking with would reply with “I am American too”. Clearly this person was not from America yet he claims to be American, what is he saying? Like many people in Central and South America he would quickly point out that this was Central America a part of the Americas. The logic for this response is clear and there really cannot be any dispute to the fact that indeed they do live in the Americas. So where did us the citizens of the United States of America come up with the bold statement “I am American”?
During the 16th century during the early stages of discovery and colonization of the Americas, American referred to the indigenous people who would later be come to be known mistakenly as Indians. In 1568 Thomas Hacket translated the work of Andre Thevet’s book France Antarctique. For the first time known in the English speaking world the term American was used. In Thevet’s book he referred to the natives as Ameriques and that was easily translated into the English form of the word American.
During the 17th century the name American started to be applied to those from Europe who had settled in the Americas and their descendants. To be American know meant that you were of European descent and lived in the Americas. Still the name American did not apply solely to those who lived in North America.
In 1648 Thomas Gage wrote The English-American: A New Survet of the West Indies. In his book the word American was used exclusively to mean those people who lived in British America. This would have been the English Colonies along the East Coast of North America under British Control to include that area known as Canada.
During the rule of the British over the thirteen colonies the term American came into its full use to when referring to the colonist in the Thirteen Colonies south of Canada. The colonist themselves were more apt to call themselves after their colony i.e. New Yorker, Pennsylvanian, Virginian, etc.
When the forefathers of decided on the name United States of America the view point of each Colony now referred to as a State was a sovereign nation that where banded to gather for mutual defense, and the well being of the States as an whole. As the nation grew so did the power of the central government which came to a climax during the American Civil War. The term American by the Americans themselves came more and more into use.
Now depending on how much a person relates to their state and their nations determines if one introduces them as an American or as say a Texan or an Alaskan. I myself now refer to myself as Alaskan as well as the rest of my family.
So how does one tell a Columbium that they are from the US? In Mexico, Central America, and South America among the Spanish speaking nations you would refer to yourself as North American from the United States (Norte American de los Estados). Your new acquaintance will be happy that you are not ignorant to the fact that he is American too.