Opinion | Hamilton: Can we make Vespuccia great again?
Presidential wannabe, Senator Elizabeth Warren, is probably embarrassed that her DNA test proved she is 1/1024th Central American, not American Indian. Sen. Warren’s Progressive colleagues are dead set against what they call “cultural appropriation” which is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect the culture.” Appropriating Native American culture in order to fill an ethnic quota slot at Harvard Law may prove problematic for Warren’s presidential aspirations.
But Senator Warren’s fiasco brings to mind how the labels we apply to various cultural groups are not always accurate. For example, American Indians. The peoples who occupied this continent long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 had already given themselves all the names they needed to live and to prosper.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, however, invested heavily in an expedition that was designed to open up India, on the Asian sub-continent, to trade with Spain. They could not have known about the existence of a fourth, undiscovered, continent. Thus, Columbus and other explorers sent by Spain (not Italy), mistakenly called the peoples they encountered: Indians.
But they were not Indians. They were people who just happened to live on islands in the Caribbean. More to the West, on the mainland, there were Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and other indigenous peoples whom President Andrew Jackson uprooted out of Florida (a Spanish name) and our southeastern states and moved them along the “Trail of Tears” to Indian Territory, later to become Oklahoma.
The above-mentioned tribes are known as the Five Civilized Tribes. But wait. How is it that white Europeans got to decide which tribes were civilized and which were not? And who gets to decide what “civil” means? The Cherokees, for example, were “civilized” long before the Europeans: Barney, Betty, and Bamm-Bamm Rubble figured out how to use flint stones to start fires.
Note how I am avoiding the use of the terms: America and American. You see, gentle readers, you and I are not really Americans. We could, more properly, be called: Vespuccians. It finally dawned on the Spanish and other explorers that Columbus did not reach the Indian sub-continent. Still, whatever Columbus discovered needed a name. And, at that time, new and exciting discoveries were often given feminine names.
Along comes the Florentine (there was no Italy back then) explorer, navigator and cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), who figured out that the New World of Columbus was actually an entirely separate landmass. The Spanish, no doubt proud that Vespucci became a citizen of Spain, decided to name the newly discovered landmass: America, a feminized version of Americus, the Latin version of Vespucci’s first name.
Okay. Now, we really have our shorts wrapped about the linguistic axle. American Indians cannot be properly called Indians. And we cannot properly call Indians: Native Americans.
But wait. What if, instead of America, the white Europeans had applied Amerigo’s last name to the new continent? We might be the United States of Vespuccia, the USV. We might even be trying to “Make Vespuccia Great Again” (MVGA). Nah. MAGA is much easier to pronounce.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame. Hamilton is the author of “The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: the Sage of Sheepdog Hill.”
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