Do Americans have a culture? – Doubts about the U.S.A.

A Culture? Please …

I know, I know. This might seem like an odd question, but many out there wonder whether or not the U.S. really does have a culture. It’s debated by researchers and academics, even questioned by many Americans themselves. Well, you know I’m going to give you my opinion. But, what is culture in the first place?

Read more: Doubts About Americans

All countries have one (there goes your answer right there), and most countries have specific regional cultures within them. Even many cities have different “cultures” depending on the side of town. This usually happens in a north-south and east-west frame. Think of, say, Eastern and Western China, East and West Russia, North and South Italy, or North and South India. The same differences happen in the U.S., where you get different cultures from north to south and east to west and diagonal and so forth.

Probably the reason many would question whether America or Americans have any culture has more to do with having a culture of their own. Since everybody knows it’s a nation composed almost entirely of immigrants, it’s easy to see why people might question whether the U.S. even has a culture in the first place. Especially for visitors, often the first things they see are Uber and Lyft drivers that can hardly speak English, a Chinese restaurant on the left, a Mexican restaurant on the right, an Indian bazaar, a building that looks just like any other in Europe or somewhere else.

Read more: American ethnicity, American languages

Culture(s) of the U.S.

A lot of that is just on the surface, though. First and foremost, we just need to look at the first nations within our nation. Native Americans were here before “America” was even a thing. They have used hundreds of languages to express their many musical styles, customs, dressing traditions, and cuisines. Many of the food items common in current American cuisines like corn, turkey, different berries, and tomatoes are homegrown, original to the continent. And indigenous art and design are still highly influential, especially in regions like the Southwest and parts of the Midwest.

The Anglos and other British settlers also had a chunk of influence. They brought their heritage, sure, but established a distinct set of folklore, musical styles, attire, and identity altogether. Generally those identities differed from North to South and urban to rural too, where differences in lifestyle, accent, and ideology would diverge those two parts of the country even more. Besides setting the foundation for the United States as we know it, they also gave the nation its main language, now the most prominent and influential version of English on the planet. (Brits, please don’t get mad at me!)

With all that going on, others from Europe like the French, Dutch, Swedes, and Spanish were all pushing their own traditions and styles onto the locations they’d settled. This left Dutch architecture in New York, Spanish architecture in California and Texas, and French architecture in Louisiana. It also gave way to celebrations like Mardi Gras, and the establishment of some of America’s greatest and most iconic cities.

The Africans that were brought over to the New World also made their cultural impact. From their influence on cuisine, especially in the South and Mid-Atlantic, they helped to produce and invent many of the nation’s most iconic and preferred dishes, several with ingredients from the ancestral continent. Lyrical storytelling and passing down vocal history allowed many to preserve their musical traditions. This continues to impact American and World music in a huge way till this day. With some of the most important black social leaders and intellects, African Americans have become some of the most recognizable and admired black individuals known all over the world. Many black people from other countries and colonies also had a huge impact on the nation’s ID. And America’s obsession with athletics, TV, and movies have helped to solidify that role.

Oh, and let’s not forget the many immigrants that came to establish their own unique cultures in the U.S. different from their home lands. I mean, Chicano isn’t quite Mexican, and Nuyorican isn’t quite Puerto Rican (even though Puerto Rican is still American, as much as Guamanian, American Samoan, Mariana, or Virgin Islander is). Just name all the religious sects and denominations that sought refuge here. Heck, many still were persecuted when they got here. Many of their traditional cuisines and customs have been modified to U.S.-style, but there are still places where their customs have been preserved like in their ancestral countries.

Just the Beginning

And that’s just looking at individual groups. I haven’t even begun to talk about consumerism and capitalism, the phenomenon of malls and suburbs, movie culture and car culture, skateboarding and surfing, baseball and basketball, football and the bashing of any other sport that claims to be football, Americana and jukebox nostalgia, hostility and hospitality, Broadway and Hollywood, Main Street and Middle America, country living and the urban rush, the woes of yards and pounds, love-hate feels about war and the admiration of military, the superiority complex and the self-loathing, “pulling up your bootstraps” and the mental health crisis, ranches and rodeos, guns and cowboys, hippies and hipsters, donators and volunteers, scammers and schemers, big enterprise and social media craze, an app for everything and a distrust in politics, religious fundamentalists and homegrown extremists, luaus and hula dancers, freezer food and barbecues, bison and bald eagles, conservative rules, and the sex, swearing, and drugs that never seem to get ruled out.

Read more: American religion, Black Americans

There’s a lot that makes America what it is, but one thing’s for certain; Americans do have a culture … but I’ll let others figure out what that culture actually is.


Thank you for reading! Follow the site or subscribe to receive updates as they happen. You can contact me at tietewaller@gmail.com or Give Me a Shout to collaborate and one-to-one messages. Stay tuned for further posts on this topic!

Weren’t the British the colonizers of the U.S.A.? – Colonization of the USA

This is a great question! After all, Americans mostly speak English. We’ve all heard about the original 13 colonies and how the British came to set up shop in the new continent. But the story goes a little deeper than that. Let’s look at some of the powers that had their hands in the American pie.

To start, there were a bunch of failed colonies along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts by the English, Spanish, and French early on (include Scandinavian Vikings if we really want to go back). The Portuguese and the Basques were also frequent visitors along the Atlantic in the 1500s and before, though they didn’t stop to settle.

The English/British

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of England.svg
  • the first to establish permanent colonies in the U.S. (not the continent, though)
  • had two main original settlements that grew and expanded out of New England and Chesapeake Bay
  • at first, were mostly groups like the Puritans seeking more religious freedom, or poor servants and farmers mostly from England
  • some colonies got lots of Irish-Scots settlers and expanded west into Native American territory, others got many more diverse settlers
  • we all know about the Atlantic slave trade

The main thing to think about with the British is that their culture, language, and society were the most influential early on in American history which is why the states maintained the English language and other cultural influences from the British after so long.

The Spanish

Flag of Spain (1785–1873, 1875–1931).svg
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg
  • established some of the first settlements still inhabited in the U.S., including the oldest at St. Augustine, FL
  • owned huge expanses of land in North America, including a portion of the Deep South and the whole western half of the current United States (mostly Luisiana or Alta California), even some areas of Canada, not to mention some territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • they either lost or gave up a lot of this land to England or the U.S. over the centuries
  • states Oregon, Montana, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida names all come from Spanish words, literature, or colonies

Spain had a pretty big cultural impact on the Gulf Coast and the American Southwest. Many place names (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Santa Fe, etc.), lots of architecture, and cultural events come from Spanish and Mexican traditions.

The French

Flag of France (1794–1815, 1830–1958).svg
Pavillon royal de la France.svg
  • had lots of colonies spread out through the central U.S. and east Canada
  • had lots of fights against England and confusing conflicts and alliances with Native Americans, they later gave up most their land to the English or Americans

France also had a big impact on place names (New Orleans, Des Moines, St. Louis, Eau Claire, Vermont) and cultural events, such as Mardi Gras and Cajun culture in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

The Dutch

Statenvlag.svg
Flag of Netherlands
  • set up colonies mostly in present-day New York and New Jersey
  • the British took over their main city, New Amsterdam, and changed it to New York, but Dutch culture stuck around in those rural areas for centuries after

The Dutch paved the initial way for America’s biggest and most iconic city. Some of its boroughs and surrounding towns are even named in honor of the Dutch (Brooklyn or Breuckelen, Staten Island or Staaten Eylandt, Harlem or Haarlem).

The Swedes

Flag of Sweden
  • made a small colony that only lasted 17 years before being sucked into New Netherland
  • the Bronx (after Bronck’s River) is named after a Swedish captain

Sweden’s colony was short-lived, but they introduced the first log cabins and some of the oldest churches to the future nation.

Also, let’s not forget Russia who colonized Alaska. The U.S. later purchased it, though, and most of the Russians left.

As you can see, there were a lot more European powers that settled the U.S. other than the English. Despite the obvious impact of the British here in the States, we also had a few other countries reaching in for a chance to colonize the future U.S.A.

.

P.S. I know that the Native Americans were already on the continent, and the colonial powers took these lands away from them. This includes First Nations in Alaska and Polynesians in Hawaii, among others. This answer is just to focus on the aspect of European colonial and cultural influence in the U.S., not to focus on the destructive aspect of their settlement in the region.

Kenai Peninsula's Historic Russian Churches - Northwest Travel Magazine
Russian Church in Alaska: from here
Old Swedes Church - First State National Historical Park (U.S. National  Park Service)
Old Swedes Church, Delaware: from here
A Stroll Along State Street in Albany, New York —
Dutch architecture, New York: from here
Home Architecture 101: French Colonial
French colonial architecture, Louisiana: from here
Historic Architecture in California
Spanish architecture in California: from here
New England Architecture | Guide to House Styles in New England
English colonial architecture, New England: from here

Check out these resources and other articles here on CultSurf!

Colonial History of the United States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_history_of_the_United_States#Russian_colonies

First Arrivals of Europeans to Settle the U.S.: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/settlement/text1/text1read.htm

Origins of New York City Borough Names: https://www.amny.com/news/nyc-boroughs-names-1-32096222/

Why are they called “Americans?”: An alternate history – naming the USA

Let me tell you about the history of a great nation called Estados Unidos de América.

A long time ago there was a German cartographist called Martin who liked to make big world maps. He noticed there was a huge stretch of land to the west that everyone was calling the “New World,” but it didn’t have a true name yet.

“I can’t leave this continent alone when there are great names like Africa and Asia.”

In deciding what to call this New World, he landed on the name “America” because of a Florentine explorer he’d heard of, Amerigo, who had correctly identified the land as a new continent, unlike the previous explorers. Amerigo himself was likely not aware of this honor while he was alive.

Fast forward some 200 years; Martin’s maps become famous and the name America has stuck. Several European powers have scouted out new lands in the “unclaimed” continent and set up colonies all around. Spain is no exception.

The colonies do well for some time, when suddenly, a few things change. After several conflicts earlier in the century against the English, Dutch, and Austrians, Spain decides to impose a bunch of ridiculous taxes one after another on their American colonies. This upsets many of the settlements all over the continent, as expected. After a little public taunting, Spanish soldiers open gunfire on a group of locals in the city of Veracruz. Again, not a good decision.

As a result of high taxes and tariffs, not to mention the attacks on their Mexican brothers, Cuban rebels go and dump sugar and silver exports that were on their way to Spain into the port of Havana. This event triggers similar actions in Santo Domingo. As a response to the Caribbean rebellion, the ports of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and others along the coast of New Spain are completely shut down. To add flame to the fire, Spain requires the criollos (the white American colonists) in all of its territories to provide housing for royal troops inside of their homes.

Radical colonists, now tired of Spain’s patronizing, shoot and kill several Spanish troops while they attempt to stop liberation rebellions in Mexico and Peru. Knowing of this, Spain goes and burns the ports at San Juan, Lima, and Veracruz to intimidate the criollos even more. Now there is a sense of urgency and togetherness for all the Capitancies General and Viceroys that, until then, didn’t feel a strong sense of unity. Those in Mexico and Peru worry about high tariffs on exports. Those in the Caribbean region and New Granada worry about their slave trade. Chile and Río de la Plata stay out of it for fear that Spain will invoke grave consequences. Plus, they weren’t the ones attacked in the first place.

New Spain, New Granada, Peru, Venezuela and the Caribbean join forces and defeat Spain. They gain full independence at about the same time. They function on the continent as independent states but have a hard time governing people, managing their economies, and organizing an effective military. After some years of trouble, colonial leaders create a convention to decide on the future of their former Spanish lands. They gather together the states’ brightest thinkers, most successful warriors, and best strategists and politicians; the Delegates.

Weeks go by of heated debates, unsatisfactory compromises, and time away from their homes and families. In the end, the delegates agree to unite their states as a single nation, but can’t agree on a name for their country. Just weeks ago, they were all independent states with their own names and special histories.

“We should be called Mexico since we were the first ones settled.”

“No. New Granada is the most centrally located, so we should take the name.”

“Peru is best since we are the richest.”

“Look at us, Venezuela! We have the strongest ports and access to the Amazon.”

The Caribbean delegates decided to just stay quiet at this part of the debate. One thing they all could agree on was not naming their new nation after Spain. In haste, they sign their constitution with “la Declaración unánime de los siete Estados Unidos de América” in Castillian — the seven United States of America — with the intention of changing it later on. After all, there are no other independent states on the entire continent to care about it, and the name came from an Italian guy 200 years earlier who had no ancestral ties to the land anyway.

More years go by, and the Estados Unidos expand their territory from the tundras of North America’s arctic to the Andes in the south. As more Spanish lands are liberated, they choose to join (or are bought by) the growing Estados Unidos. The British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies all gain independence over the course of centuries. Even the Río de la Plata and Chile eventually become independent from their Spanish rulers, although peacefully, unlike their bigger neighbor.

After centuries of conflicts, from civil wars and civil rights movements, slave revolts and resistance from slave owners, Napoleonic wars, two world wars, and industrialization, the old Estados Unidos de América never does end up changing their name. By chance or luck, they didn’t divide and have become the most powerful nation in the western world, one of the most powerful on Earth. Their culture has won the world over from countless innovations in music, science, film, literature, sports, and many other fields. Though, they have a nasty habit of getting involved in other countries’ affairs.

The non-Spanish countries of the Americas assume that Estados Unidos de América must be arrogant; they do call their country América for short, and themselves Americanos. Why not Unitedstatesians, since that would be more appropriate? But, come on, estadounidense doesn’t sound right in Spanish. To make things worse, the other American countries learn that North and South America are one continent since they’re connected. But Estados Unidos learns they are distinct continents since, like Africa and Eurasia, the two are only connected at a very small point.

Not knowing this, the Americanos see no harm in their name and unknowingly offend tons of people outside their borders. Besides, it’s practical for them. They’ve been calling themselves Americanos since they were born and for almost 500 years. The poor other countries of America wish they would just change their name already. Why did that land of ignorant fools, who can’t even tell the difference between Jamaica and Guyana, ever get to “own” the name of the continent that belongs to all of them? Not like the names of their precious countries. The names that were given by people who were not natives of the land and that gave names of people and saints who they themselves never knew.

The other countries continue to question this for eternity. The Americanos, especially those that don’t travel or study, remain oblivious to the fact that their name causes any controversy at all.

The End.