Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus) had been en route to India when he tripped over the islands of the Caribbean; therefore, the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere came to be called indios (Indians) and their lands las indias (the Indies). In the eighteenth century, however, the continent was renamed América and its inhabitants americanos. Since America is the name applied to the Western Hemisphere, all peoples from Canada to Argentina may be correctly called Americans. This is a paradox that vexed Spanish Americans even before independence.
The Mexican political theorist Servando Teresa de Mier identified the problem during a visit to the United States in 1820. He explained:
Since the Europeans believe there is no other America than the one their nation pos-
sesses, an erroneous nomenclature has formed in each nation. \… In France, generally,
when one speaks of America one means Santo Domingo [Haiti]; in Portugal, Brazil.
The English call their islands in the Caribbean Archipelago, our Indies or the West
Indies; and for the English there is no other North America than the United States. All
Spanish North America is to them South America, even though the largest part of the
region is in the north. The people of the United States follow that usage and they are
offended when we, in order to distinguish them, call them Anglo-Americans. They wish
to be the only Americans or North Americans even though neither name is totally ap-
propriate. Americans of the United States is too long. In the end, they will have to be
content with the name guasintones, from their capital, Washington (the w is pronounced
gu [in English]), just as they call us Mexicans, from the name of our capital.2
In this book, I refer to Spanish America as America and to Mexico as América Septentional or North America. The people of Spanish America, particularly those from Mexico, the subject of this work, are called Americans. This seems to me entirely appropriate because those terms were used formally and informally in the Hispanic world during the period examined in this work and because they continue to be used today.