A Challenge for Canadian Song Writers: Further Thoughts About Reclaiming ‘America’ for all Americans

In the piece that I posted here a couple of weeks ago about the recent increased use by US citizens–and Howie Mandel–of the term ‘America’ to refer to the United States of America, I mentioned a couple of songs originating in the United States in which the term ‘America’ is used in ways that don’t bother me: the song “America” from West Side Story and a Simon & Garfunkel song also titled “America”. Despite references in these songs to locations in the USA, the ‘America’ of these songs is expansive enough to accommodate Canadians, and citizens of other nations that are, geographically-speaking, part of America. As I’ve realized since I wrote that post, there are actually many songs by US songwriters in which the term ‘America’ is used in similar ways.  Two more examples are the oldie but goodie, Neil Diamond’s “America” (“Everywhere around the world / They’re coming to America . . . “), and the newer song by Kanye West and Jay-Z, “Made in America” (“We made it in America / I pledge allegiance to my grandma . . . “).

I also mentioned in that piece that we Canadians rarely refer to ourselves as ‘Americans’ because we don’t wish to be confused with US citizens, who have adopted that term as a popular slang term for their nationality. (I have some sympathy with that usage, because of the awkwardness of deriving a term of citizenship from a country whose full name consists of four words, with the possessive ‘of’ as one of those words.) But there is no good reason why we Canadians couldn’t use the term ‘America’ more frequently when referring to certain aspects of Canadian experience.  The more that we do that, it seems the less that US citizens would refer to their basic country (i.e., the geographic entity or the basic political collective), as ‘America’.  Just as Canadians avoid calling ourselves ‘Americans’ because we don’t wish to be confused with citizens of the United States, it seems that US citizens would be less likely to call their country ‘America’, when all they mean is their basic country, if there is an increased likelihood that their country could be confused with our country, Canada.

So, here’s a challenge for Canadian song writers. We need some songs that reclaim the term ‘America’ for Canadians. As an example, I came across a newspaper article this week about debris and foreign shellfish from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 now arriving on the shores of America, which is to say the western shores of all of America–Canada included. With some local references about all the strange objects and lifeforms that recently have turned up on beaches in British Columbia, but situating the arrival in the broader context of America, this could be the basis of an interesting song of the kind I’m looking for. Or, how about a road-trip through America, redolent of the Simon & Garfunkel song, in which the narrator looks out the window at some Canadian sights? Or never even leaves Canada? I may even try writing some words for such a song myself. (I’ll leave the music part to the musicians.)

I realize now that Canadians using ‘America’ more often, in ways that we would like it to be used, is probably a better way, in the long-run, of getting US citizens–and Howie Mandel–to stop using the term in ways that annoy, and even offend, us than is playing around with the pronunciation and spelling of ‘America’–although that may have some value in the short-term, to draw attention to the problem. And, popular songs are likely to have a much more significant effect than a blog post, even one that gets thousands of hits. (Although my readership has been growing, if this post gets just one thousand hits, it would be a miracle.)

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