Why Saying “American American” To Describe A White Person From The United States Is Wrong

You’d be surprised by how many people I’ve met who have told me that I’m not the typical “American American” they expected. I mean, what did you want; that we’re all white, with blue eyes, blonde hair, and our guys look like Zac Efron? Sadly, most of our fellas in the United States do not look like Zac Efron. I know, I’m also equally upset by this fact. It’s come to my attention that when I talk to some people who have never visited the United States, they are surprised that I don’t look like the Americans in the movies… you know, the really tall, blonde ones, with a sharp nose, and not almond shaped eyes. I’m just a kindof average height, brunette, flat nosed chica who thinks that brunettes or people with jet black hair are equally as fun! Also, side note, my almond eyes are pretty… even though they may be smaller than the average-sized eye. And that flat nose I’ve got? Totally cute! 

All of my AMERICAN cousins!

I’ve shown pictures of my family members to some of my friends here in Spain and even to some of my students. My family from both my mom and dad’s side have a lot of mixed genes; we’ve got Vietnamese, Koreans, Jewish, Chinese, Afghan, “White”, etc. I mean, it’s a nice little melting pot we’ve got! When some of my friends and students see a few of my cousins, their first reaction is “They don’t look like you”, which is normal. I usually agree with what they have to say. Their next comment usually is “Their eyes aren’t like yours *proceeds to pull back their eyes to make them chinkier* and their nose isn’t as flat”. This is the part where I explain that some of my cousins are mixed, explaining a bit about their genes, and then showing my friends and students some pictures of my cousins’ parents.

After going into a pretty lengthy explanation about all of the different types of ethnicities I have in my extended family, some friends and students will say something along the lines of “Oh, so your cousin is American American“. Y’all know what I’m talking about, the REAL type of American. Now what is the REAL type of American? Well, to people who don’t know that the United States is made up of numerous different ethnicities and cultures, their REAL American is a caucasian person.

My Family

Here is a quick lesson about the United States, we are a nation composed entirely of immigrants from all parts of the world. Granted, maybe the majority of people from the United States are “white” but there is not a specific appearance of a North American; we have different features, different stories, and different cultures. Calling a white person “American American” is wrong, because the real Americans are the Native Americans who were here before any of the settlers came, the indigenous people. I hear it all the time in Spain, when people look at my friends (who are white) and call them the “American Americans” referring to them as the typical American, and to me, as Vietnamese (they’ll most likely call me “that Chinese person”). I am sorry to tell you you’re wrong dear friends and students, but actually… I’m North American (Vietnamese American!!), born and raised in the good ‘ole states!

I’m not saying that I find it offensive that others don’t consider me to be the typical North American or that they only call me Vietnamese. It does bother me, however, that some will consider that a “White American” from the United States is the “typical” or “real” North American. It’s gotten me to think of myself as not an “American American“. Maybe other countries have definite features, but is there a definite feature for a person from the United States? Maybe we can all agree that the stereotype for North Americans are that we are pretty loud, talk a lot, and are extremely expressive. *Holla atcho gurl, that’s me!* But physically, we all come in different sizes, shapes, colors, etc. Which is totally normal because if we all looked the same, what fun would that be?

My thoughts have been very influenced about “what” I identify myself as. When people ask me where I’m from, I usually respond with the United States and then I internally brace myself for the following question: “No, where are you REALLY from?”. This requires me to explain, AGAIN, that I am REALLY from the United States but if you’re interested in where my parents are from or what my ethnicity is, I am Vietnamese. My experiences as an Asian-American in Spain has been interesting, nonetheless. I was describing this to a fellow Asian friend, and I told her that although I know I am Asian and know that my features are Asian, I have never been made to feel so aware of my ethnicity as I am here, in Spain.

Some Americans, some Kiwis, a German, and a Spaniard

A “real” North American or “American American” is not based on someone’s physical appearance. We aren’t all white! Actually, we’re from all over the world, made of different ethnicities and cultures that mix together to make the “American American” person. So, please, stop telling me that a white person from the United States is “American American” or your idea of the “real American”, because you’re talking to a REAL AMERICAN! Really, I can show you my birth certificate and everything, and I promise on my passport, my nationality is listed as American.

Have any other travelers from the United States experienced anything like this? Share your stories below!

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4 thoughts on “Why Saying “American American” To Describe A White Person From The United States Is Wrong”

  1. Hey Ashley!

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Thanks for the advice, I’m trying to think about how I can properly explain to people about the diversity in the Americas as a whole. Someone else pointed out that it’s not just “The United States” or “Canada”, there’s also “South Americans” who are also “Americans”. There’s just a lot of diversity in general! Hope all is well in Burgos! (:


  2. Hey Monica!

    Thanks for reading along and thank you for the comment! It’s definitely something I was thinking about while writing this post, which is why I tried really hard to only refer to myself as someone from the “United States”. I definitely believe that Canadians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans and South Americans are considered collectively as “Americans” because we are technically all from the continent of America (just north and south) but explaining all of that to some of the Spaniards I’ve met is REALLY difficult. I would say the “real Americans” are the people who were here before the settlers (the Native Americans).

    Thanks again for sharing and definitely something I’m thinking about including in future posts!


  3. Although I happen to agree with you about people from the United States come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds and Spain’s general lack of understanding of this concept.. I do feel that I need to comment that calling ourselves “Americans” is also slightly offensive by nature. Are Canadians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, ect. not also from North America? And what about the countless South AMERICAN people? Why are people from the United States the only people who can lay claim to this entire side of the planet? It doesn’t really make sense why we decided that we are the ONLY Americans.. Just some food for thought..

  4. I want to print this out and wave it around at my students/teachers/acquaintances here. I’m a blonde and blue-eyed, and always get heated when people comment on I’m exactly what they think of when they hear “Canadian”. Just like USA, Canada is an awesome mix of people whose origins come from all over the world, and I am not the perfect representation of my country. Whenever I hear this I ask the person I’m talking to to imagine the metro in Madrid, I ask them if they see different faces, faces from all over, when they say yes I tell them that’s Canada, that’s how Canadians look…maybe a similar metaphor could work for you too.

    Ps. I love your blog! I always make sure to click on the links you post in the aux groups.

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