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How many continents are there? 

America is one

"You are obviously in support of a Hispanic conquest of the US and every living breathing moment of your day is dedicated to assisting your people against the American people. Oh, I'm sorry I used the term American since someone from Latin America might be offended."

-- Robert

Reviewing the messages posted on the Creative Loafing Web site, I came across one signed by a reader, who in a very honest gesture wrote that I have accomplished an exceptionally distressing achievement: "I congratulate you in being the CL writer who succeeds in annoying me the most."

I really do not want to irritate anyone with my thoughts and points of view. In actuality, my purpose is for non-Latinos to have a better understanding about the Hispanic community. Through the column I expect to reflect the feelings and anguishes of new arrivals to this country from Latin America. I know it is not an easy task, because even in the most simple of concepts, the culture clash emerges.

If you ask the question, How many continents are on the earth? You will get a different answer from a person born and raised in Latin America or Spain than from an alumnus of the US school system.

For a Latin American and Spaniard there are only five continents: America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. South of the border, the view of the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, who in 1913 designed the official flag of the Olympic games, prevails. The flag is comprised of a white background and five interlaced rings in the center: blue, yellow, black, green and red. As de Coubertin described, "Each ring representing one of the five continents of the World." I was taught that concept as a child through the words of my grandfather and the educational texts of Cuban author Levi Marrero.

The seven continents model taught in most native English-speaking countries is a big surprise for Hispanic immigrants when they arrive to the US.

For an Argentinean, Venezuelan or Mexican, North and South America make up a single continent. If you ask Chileans, Salvadorans or Dominicans if they are Americans, they will answer: Yes, of course.

German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller named the new American continent in 1507. In his book "Cosmographiae Introductio" he says: "A fourth part [of the earth] has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci." His 1507 world map has come to be known as "America's birth certificate." Later, in 1538 Flemish geographer Gerardus Mercator produced a map showing "America" stretching from north to south.

Ironically, the name for the new continent was given in the erroneous idea that it was the Florentine Vespucci and not the Genovese Christopher Columbus, under the Spanish crown, who discovered the new land.

The word used in the Spanish-speaking world to describe someone of US citizenship is estadounidense (roughly translated: United Stater) not americano (American). That's the term used in Guatemala City, Guayaquil (Ecuador), Montevideo (Uruguay) or Seville (Spain). That's the way an American citizen is defined in the pages of US Spanish-language dailies like Los Angeles' La Opinión, New York's El Diario, Miami's Nuevo Herald, Chicago's Hoy and Dallas's Al Día.

It has been several years now that I have been a proud carrier of the blue US passport. A long time ago I pledged my allegiance to the United States of America.

I have read the prologues of constitutions of many countries and no other country mentions "the pursuit of happiness."

That's precisely the reason why I stand for the rights of Hispanic undocumented immigrants. Because I am convinced that most of them are good people who ought to have a piece of the "American dream." They are, after all, Americans.

Rafael Prieto Zartha is the editor of the Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente.

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